EEF publishes findings from independent evaluation of National Online Tutoring pilot

Online tuition can support disadvantaged pupils to learn remotely, new study reveals.

Delivering online tuition can be an effective way to support the learning of disadvantaged pupils during partial school closures – if supportive measures are in place – according to a new report published today by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The report, produced by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), evaluates the reach of the National Online Tutoring Pilot, commissioned by the EEF in partnership with the Sutton Trust, Impetus and Nesta, to support disadvantaged pupils’ learning during and after partial school closures in the first national lockdown. Its aim was to test the feasibility and promise of online tutoring to support learning while pupils, in particular those from low-income backgrounds, were unable to access school in the normal way. It was the first study to look solely at online delivery in England.

The pilot was delivered from June to October 2020 by four organisations with experience of tutoring children from disadvantaged backgrounds: Action Tutoring, MyTutor, The Access Project and Tutor Trust. In total, the pilot reached 1,425 learners in 65 schools, with 9,800 tuition sessions delivered. The vast majority of students were studying for their GCSEs in Years 10 and 11 (ages 14-16). Most students received weekly one-to-one sessions on maths, English or science. The majority of students receiving tuition were eligible for pupil premium funding.

The independent evaluation by NatCen lists five key conclusions:

  • Delivering online tuition during the period of partial school closures was feasible, with high reach in the circumstances.
  • Access to equipment and reliable internet connections were key barriers to participation, particularly for home-based learners, despite the best efforts of schools. Almost half (48%) of schools reported lack of equipment as a challenge.
  • Pupils enjoyed the tuition and there were perceived benefits for learning, with improvements in learners’ confidence, engagement with education and preparedness for the new school year reported. The overwhelming majority (87%) of learners said that, if they had the opportunity, they would like to carry on with their tutoring. Three-quarters (76%) said they enjoyed learning more than they did before.
  • Investing time in building effective relationships between schools and families were crucial in supporting take-up and engagement.
  • Face-to-face tuition is preferred by both tutors and learners to online tuition.

The EEF is delivering the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) Tuition Partners pillar, which offers subsidised face-to-face and online tutoring to schools from an approved list of 33 Tuition Partners. While there are some key differences between this pilot and the NTP model, notably that some of the tutoring in the online pilot was delivered in the summer holidays rather than in term time, today’s findings provide valuable insight into the benefits and barriers to online delivery.

Since its launch in November 2020, the NTP has been clear that tutoring – whether online or face-to-face – should take place in school wherever possible, to minimise the barriers highlighted by today’s report. However, with schools currently closed to most pupils, almost all Tuition Partners are offering online at-home tuition to ensure that pupils can still benefit in this period of disrupted learning. The NTP is working with Tuition Partners to ensure as many pupils as possible can benefit from tutoring through the NTP in this period of closures.

The pilot was co-funded by the EEF, alongside Wellcome Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Hg Foundation, Porticus UK, the Dulverton Trust, the Inflexion Foundation and other funders.

Sir Peter Lampl founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“High-quality tuition has a crucial role to play in supporting children and young people’s learning after this year of disruption. While we have a wealth of evidence telling us how best to deliver face-to-face tuition, we know less about how to make online tutoring as effective as possible. Today’s report gives us valuable insights into the challenges and barriers and will go some way to ensuring online tutoring has the biggest possible impact on those pupils who need it the most.”

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“This report can give us confidence that online tuition is an effective tool to support students and teachers during those times when pupils are unable to attend school in the normal way. It is encouraging to see that not only is it possible to reach high numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but that they also enjoy the opportunity to continue their learning.

“The report also highlights challenges, in particular the lack of equipment or good internet connection which meant too many students were unable to access online learning. Bridging that ‘digital divide’ must remain a national priority.

“These findings will help us all to ensure that online tuition is as effective as possible in supporting students during this time of disrupted schooling.”

Rebekah Wilson, Deputy Headteacher at Shakespeare Primary School in Leeds, said:

“The Tutor Trust pilot allowed our children and families to maintain aspects of a consistent routine and remain engaged in learning. It ensured regular and meaningful opportunities to recall what they had already learnt as well as providing a platform for new learning.

“The strong communication between school, families and the Tutor Trust made the project a true success. It allowed some of our most vulnerable pupils to move forward and make progress in their learning at a time when that felt almost impossible to achieve.”

Sarah, an Action Tutoring tutor in London, said:

“I am delighted to be involved in Action Tutoring’s online tutoring test phase because it is an opportunity to try to remedy in a small way the damage done to children’s education by the Covid-19 school closures and also, if successful, in the longer term it could allow Action Tutoring to support many more disadvantaged pupils.

“Preparing for tutoring has been a learning experience for me – it turns out that writing fractions on a virtual whiteboard is a lot trickier than on paper!”