Online tutoring during school closures ‘feasible’, but digital divide a key barrier

NEU teaching Covid

Delivering online tutoring to disadvantaged pupils during partial school closures was feasible, but access to equipment presented a key barrier, the Education Endowment Foundation has found.

A new report from the EEF evaluating the effectiveness of last year’s National Online Tutoring Pilot was released today.

It found that delivering online tuition was feasible and the pilot’s reach, between July and October, was “high, considering the circumstances”.

In total 1,425 pupils across 65 schools took part – the majority of whom were eligible for pupil premium funding.

However, 48 per cent of schools reported that the lack of appropriate equipment – such as laptops and reliable internet connections – posed a challenge for learning.

EEF also found that some disadvantaged learners “who would have benefitted” were not able to take part due to difficulties contacting parents and carers.

Despite the apparent feasibility of the offering, the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) admitted to Schools Week in January that just 14 of its 33 tuition partners were approved to deliver remote tutoring from pupils’ homes – this has now increased to 29.

Online tutoring delivery ‘easier’ in school

The report states that in general, providers and school leads felt it was easier to facilitate delivery of the tutoring at school. Teachers had control of the technology and learners faced fewer distractions.

online tutoring
Professor Becky Francis

Yet home-based delivery was said to be more flexible and unaffected by Covid restriction on movement.

Professor Becky Francis, EEF chief executive, said it was encouraging to see it was possible to “reach high numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds”, but that bridging the digital divide “must remain a national priority”.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said the research showed that “the biggest limitation” to online learning was “still the lack of access to internet connections and devices”.

“Nearly a year on from the first lockdown, many thousands of pupils are still without a device.”

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