Small group tuition

Moderate impact for moderate cost, based on limited evidence.

Cost Per Pupil Cost estimate: Up to £720 per pupil per year. cost per pupil
Evidence Rating Evidence estimate: At least one meta-analysis or review. evidence rating Average impact: + 4 additional months. Impact +4 months

What is it?

Here, small group tuition is defined as one teacher or professional educator working with two, three, four or five pupils. This arrangement enables the teacher to focus exclusively on a small number of learners, usually on their own in a separate classroom or working area. Intensive tuition in small groups is often provided to support lower attaining learners or those who are falling behind, but it can also be used as a more general strategy to ensure effective progress, or to teach challenging topics or skills.

How effective is it?

Research indicates that pupils taught in small groups make an average of four additional months’ progress when compared with larger groups or whole class teaching. As a rule of thumb, smaller groups lead to higher attainment. E.g. groups of three have a higher impact than groups of six, but, on average, a slightly lower impact when compared with one to one tuition [Link]. The evidence suggests that this is because smaller groups allow for more sustained engagement from the pupils, work that is more closely matched to leaners’ needs and for the teacher to provide more effective feedback.

Once group size increases to six or above there is a clear reduction in effectiveness compared to smaller groups. However, below this level the evidence about group size is less conclusive, with some studies suggesting that groups of three or four pupils can sometimes be as or more effective than either one to one or paired tuition, especially when approaches like peer tutoring [link] and collaborative learning [link] are used. Given this uncertainty and the lower cost of small group tuition, it may be sensible to trial small group tuition as an initial option, before moving to one to one tuition if small group tuition is ineffective.

The variability in findings suggests two things. First, the quality of the teaching in small groups may be as or more important than group size. This is supported by evidence showing the positive impact of professional development on outcomes. There are also examples where reading practice has been efficiently organised so that all pupils in the group stay fully engaged as they wait for their turn, such as in Guided Reading. Second, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of different arrangements as the specific subject matter being taught and composition of the groups may influence outcomes. 

How secure is the evidence?

The evidence is limited and mainly relates to low attaining pupils receiving additional support to catch up with their peers. More research has been undertaken into paired tuition than other kinds of small group tuition, so the evidence for small group teaching across varying sizes of groups and at different levels of intensity is not conclusive and mainly comes from single studies. There are very few studies where group size has been varied systematically to explore the effects beyond one-to-two and one-to-three so more research would be useful in this area. The majority of the evidence comes from the USA, and there are few rigorous UK studies. However, in a recent UK evaluation Year 6 and 7 pupils made an additional three months’ progress from a structured programme of small group tuition. This finding suggests that positive impacts can be achieved in English schools. 

Please click here for full references.

What are the costs?

Overall, costs are estimated as moderate. Costs decrease with group size as the majority of the costs are for teaching time. The cost of paired tuition is approximated as £350 per pupil per term (based on two pupils receiving 30 minutes tuition, five times a week for 12 weeks) plus any resource or equipment costs, with one to three cheaper still (£233 per pupil). 

What should I consider?

  • Small group tuition is most likely to be effective if it is targeted at pupils’ specific needs. How will you assess pupils' needs accurately before adopting a new approach?

  • One to one tuition and small group tuition are effective interventions. However, the cost effectiveness of one to two and one to three indicates that greater use of these approaches may be worthwhile. Have you considered trialling one to two or one to three as an initial option?

  • Training and support are likely to increase the effectiveness of small group tuition. Have those leading the small group tuition been trained in the programme they are delivering?