Peer tutoring

Peer tutoring includes a range of approaches in which learners work in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support. In cross-age tutoring, an older learner takes the tutoring role and is paired with a younger tutee or tutees. Peer assisted learning is a structured approach for mathematics and reading with sessions of 25-35 minutes two or three times a week. In reciprocal peer tutoring, learners alternate between the role of tutor and tutee. The common characteristic is that learners take on responsibility for aspects of teaching and for evaluating their success. Peer assessment involves the peer tutor providing feedback to children relating to their performance and can have different forms such as reinforcing or correcting aspects of learning.

How effective is it?

Overall, the introduction of peer tutoring approaches appears to have a positive impact on learning, with an average positive effect of approximately five additional months’ progress. Studies have identified benefits for both tutors and tutees, and for a wide range of age groups. Though all types of pupils appear to benefit from peer tutoring, there is some evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and low attaining pupils make the biggest gains.

Peer tutoring appears to be particularly effective when pupils are provided with support to ensure that the quality of peer interaction is high, for example by providing questioning frames. In cross-age peer tutoring some studies have found that a two year age gap is effective and that intensive blocks of tutoring are more effective, relative to longer programmes.

Peer tutoring appears to be less effective when the approach replaces normal teaching, rather than supplementing or enhancing it, suggesting that peer tutoring is most effectively used to consolidate learning, rather than to introduce new material.

How secure is the evidence?

Peer tutoring has been extensively studied and a majority of studies show moderate to high average effects. High-quality reviews have explored the impact of peer tutoring at both primary and secondary level, and in a variety of subjects.

Though overall the evidence base related to peer tutoring is relatively consistent, some recent studies of peer tutoring have found lower average effects, suggesting that monitoring the implementation and impact of peer tutoring is valuable.

Two randomised controlled trials conducted in English schools and published in 2015 found that the introduction of new peer tutoring programmes did not lead to any improvement in attainment. These findings may reinforce the finding that factors such as the amount or type of support provided to tutors are important, or indicate that some forms of peer tutoring that have been effective elsewhere are less effective in English schools. It is also possible that the introduction of new peer tutoring programmes will have less of an impact in schools where peer tutoring or collaborative learning is already commonplace. However, it would be valuable to assess this claim through further research.

Please click here for the technical appendix, which includes full references and more detail on the security and cost ratings.

What are the costs?

The direct costs of running peer tutoring in schools are very low, as few additional materials are required (£10-20 per pupil per year). Professional development and additional support for staff is recommended, particularly in the early stages of setting up a programme. Estimates are less than £80 per pupil, indicating very low overall costs.

What should I consider?

Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:

  1. Are the activities sufficiently challenging for the tutee to benefit from the tutor’s support?

  2. What support will the tutor receive to ensure that the quality of peer interaction is high?

  3. Training for staff and tutors are essential ingredients for success. How will you organise sufficient time to train both staff and tutors, and to identify improvements as the programme progresses?

  4. Is peer tutoring being used to review or consolidate learning, or to introduce new material?

  5. Four to ten week intensive blocks appear to provide maximum impact for both tutors and tutees. Can you arrange for your peer tutoring to follow this structure?