Online tuition pilot launched as new EEF analysis finds school closures could undo recent progress on closing the attainment gap

1,600 disadvantaged pupils to receive high-quality tutoring from new online tutoring programme

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has joined forces with the Sutton Trust, Impetus and Nesta to launch a new online tuition pilot to support disadvantaged pupils as schools begin to open for more pupils. The new initiative will bring high-quality tutoring to up to 1,600 pupils in disadvantaged communities over the coming weeks, supporting schools as they open for more pupils. Four different models will be tested under the pilot:

  • Action Tutoring will pilot online tuition in core subjects using structured workbooks, for up to 100 students in Years 6 and 10 in three cities;
  • MyTutor, an established online tuition platform, using handpicked undergraduate tutors to provide live, interactive one-to-one tuition supporting up to 1,000 pupils in years 10/11;
  • The Access Project will support 440 students in Years 10/11 and Years 12/13 who would normally receive face-to-face tuition through a new online model; and
  • Tutor Trust will adapt their small-group tuition model, and offer one-to-one online tutoring for 100 students in Years 5 and 10 across Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Leeds.

There is extensive high-quality evidence demonstrating the potential of one-to-one and small-group tuition as a cost-effective way to support pupils who are falling behind. The Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests it can boost progress by up to +5 months. Randomised controlled trials funded by the EEF have also found positive effects for a range of tuition models. For example, the independent evaluation of the Tutor Trust model, which trains university students and recent graduates as tutors in local schools, found it boosted Year 6 (10-11 year olds) pupils’ maths scores by an additional three months.

While there is strong evidence that face-to-face tuition is a highly effective approach to help pupils catch up, less is known about how to deliver online tuition to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether this is effective, and under what conditions it can be delivered well.

The pilot will be independent evaluated by NatCen to assess the potential for online tuition to mitigate against the impact of school closures on the attainment gap.

The launch of this new Online Tuition pilot comes as the EEF publishes the most detailed analysis to date of the likely impact of school closures on the attainment gap.

Over the past decade, the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates at the end of primary school is estimated to have narrowed, from 11.5 months in 2009 to 9.2 months in 2019 according to the Education Policy Institute.

However, today’s analysis finds that this progress could be undone. Following a rapid evidence review looking at the impact on the attainment gap as a result of different kinds of school closures (eg, summer holidays, adverse weather, natural disasters) it concludes that school closures as a result of Covid-19 will widen the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, likely reversing the progress made since 2011.

Crucially though, if steps are taken, such as the Online Tuition Pilot, to support schools as they work to help pupils catch-up, the negative impact of school closures on the gap could be eased.

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

As today’s analysis shows, school closures are likely to have a devastating impact on the poorest children and young people. The attainment gap widens when children are not in school.

There is strong evidence that high-quality tuition is a cost-effective way to enable pupils to catch up. I’m pleased our new online tuition project will support 1,600 pupils in schools across the country.

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

The evidence is clear that children learn less when they are not in school. Our analysis today highlights that this particularly impacts those from disadvantaged backgrounds and widens the attainment gap.

But there are practical steps we can take to minimise the size of the gaps that are opening up – both while pupils are learning remotely, and as they begin to return to school.

Catch-up tuition to complement the expertise of classroom teachers and support those who have fallen furthest behind will be essential and we hope our new online tuition pilot will offer practical help to both schools and pupils at this time.

Ratcliffe, CEO of Impetus, said:

Tutoring boosts children's learning and better-off children get more of it than those from disadvantaged background. That was true before COVID struck and the tutoring gap has widened even further during lockdown.

At Impetus we have been working with three high quality tutoring charities to help them achieve better results and grow. This pilot gives us the opportunity to take the best tutoring online and reach the young people who need it most.

Ravi Gurumurthy, CEO at Nesta, the innovation foundation, said:

The school closures from COVID-19 are widening inequalities in educational achievement. But there is promising evidence to show that one-to-one tutoring has a positive impact on improving learning outcomes for disadvantaged students, and could help mitigate the effects of the lockdown.

The Online Tuition Pilot will test how the students who need support the most can be matched with tutors, whilst ensuring the highest quality of intervention.