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?

Intensive tuition in small groups is usually provided to support lower attaining learners or those who are falling behind, though it can also be used as a more general strategy to ensure effective progress, or to teach challenging topics or skills. The most familiar approach is one teacher with one pupil (see One to one). However other approaches to provide for intensive support are possible, such as teaching pupils in pairs or small groups of 3-5. For the purposes of the Toolkit, ‘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. 

How effective is it?

Overall the pattern is that small group tuition is effective, and as a rule of thumb, the smaller the group the better, e.g. groups of two have slightly higher impact than groups of three, but slightly lower impact compared to one to one tuition. Some studies suggest that greater feedback from the teacher, more sustained engagement in smaller groups, or work which is more closely matched to learners’ needs explain this impact. Once group size increases above six or seven there is a noticeable reduction in effectiveness. 

However, although the above pattern is usually consistent, there is some variability in impact within the existing evidence. For example, in reading, small group teaching can sometimes be more effective than either one to one or paired tuition. It may be that in these cases reading practice can be efficiently organised so that all the group stay fully engaged as each take their turn, such as in Guided Reading. Likewise, in the evaluation of Every Child Counts in the UK, one to one, paired teaching and groups of three were almost equally effective. The variability in findings suggests two things. First, the quality of the teaching in small groups may be as or more important than the group size, and there is evidence of the benefits of professional development on pupils outcomes. 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 the outcomes.

Recent evaluations of two  EEF projects, Switch-on Reading and Grammar for Writing, found that Year 7 pupils made an additional three months progress from small group interventions.

Given that small group tuition and one to one tuition have a similar impact, but small group tuition has a lower per pupil cost, it may be useful for schools to trial small group tuition as an alternative option to one to one tuition.

How secure is the evidence?

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 less 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. 

For full references click here.

What are the costs?

Costs decrease with group size as the majority of the costs are for teaching time. We have estimated the cost of one to two tuition as £400 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 (£270 per pupil). Costs are therefore estimated as moderate.

What should I consider?

  • Intensive tuition in small groups is very effective, particularly when pupils are grouped according to current level of attainment or specific need. Have you considered how you will organise the groups?

  • How will you assess pupils’ needs accurately and provide work at a challenging level with effective feedback and support?

  • 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 would be productive in schools.

  • Have you considered how you will provide training and support for those leading the small group tuition, and how you will evaluate the impact of it? These are likely to increase the effectiveness of small group tuition.