Online tutoring helps disadvantaged pupils during lockdown, study finds

Online tutoring can be a powerful tool to help children affected by school closures, according to initial findings from a study of over 1,000 primary and secondary school pupils.

Nine in ten children say tutoring helps them feel more confident with their schoolwork. Children say what they particularly like about tutoring is the one-to-one support for issues they are struggling with, the reduced fear of peer judgment and the flexibility to learn at their own pace.

In the 65 schools that took part in the study during lockdown and the summer holidays, the majority of pupils supported were disadvantaged children – 81% of those in primaries and 69% of those in secondary schools.

This pilot project was a collaboration between the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), Impetus, The Sutton Trust and Nesta. It was co-funded by the EEF, alongside the Wellcome Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, The Hg Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, Porticus UK and the Inflexion Foundation.

The project aimed to test the feasibility and promise of online tutoring to support learning during school closures. Four tutoring charities and companies participated in the study, which was independently evaluated by NatCen Social Research – Action Tutoring, MyTutor, The Access Project and Tutor Trust, each of which delivered one-to-one online tutoring in English, maths and science.

In total, more than 7,000 lessons were delivered during the period to a variety of year groups, ranging from Year 5 to Year 13. The EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, an accessible summary of educational research, shows that high-quality tutoring can deliver approximately five months of progress on average. This was the first study to look solely at online delivery in England. School leaders were enthusiastic about the project.

Cath Smith, Executive Headteacher of John Roan School in Greenwich, London, which partnered with MyTutor said:

I was really unsure at first – thinking that it would be difficult for the students on the project to commit to the programme and to get organised to meet each week.

After all, at the start we were in lockdown and had less contact with the students. However, although we did need to put in quite a bit of work from the staff point of view to monitor and encourage, the feedback was really positive from both students and their parents and the programme worked really well with high levels of engagement.

Ms Smith said the initiative worked “remarkably well” compared to other interventions even though it was the summer holidays.

Most students logged on from home with a few coming into school to do their first couple of sessions here with a member of staff around to help. We loaned out Chromebooks to some students who did not have adequate technology at home.

Other interventions during lockdown were largely around pastoral support, so this which focused on academic matters was really well received and very purposeful. In addition, the relationship that the students built up over the programme meant that they were engaged and keen to participate each week.

Another school leader, Rakhee Dattani, Head of Maths at Arts and Media School, Islington, London, said:

Online tutoring with Action Tutoring has allowed students to get personalised intervention in maths, increasing their engagement in a subject they don't find easy. The few weeks of online tutoring has made a huge difference in their confidence and attainment in key topics in maths.

Another school leader commented that tutoring tailored to children’s needs helped, as it maintained engagement and made learning relevant:

Online tutoring with Action Tutoring has allowed students to get personalised intervention in maths, increasing their engagement in a subject they don't find easy. The few weeks of online tutoring has made a huge difference in their confidence and attainment in key topics in maths.

Another school leader commented that tutoring tailored to children’s needs helped, as it maintained engagement and made learning relevant:

I’ve got one learner, a girl with autism, and she is flying. She loves that one-on-one attention that she is getting from the tutor and that she is missing from school.

One pupil said:

When tutoring is one-to-one they [tutors] can really focus on what you're struggling with.

The National Tutoring Programme (NTP), which aims to make high-quality tutoring available to schools to help disadvantaged pupils aged 5-16 whose education has been affected by school closures, will build on the pilots when it launches in the first week of November. The Tuition Partners pillar of the NTP is being established by the Education Endowment Foundation and will offer subsidised face-to-face and online tutoring to schools.

Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

This study shows that online tutoring - which will be offered alongside face-to-face provision through the National Tutoring Programme - can be an essential tool to support students and teachers this academic year. Until social distancing restrictions relax, online tutoring offers a flexible and much needed way to get extra support into schools across England.

We’ve received strong interest from schools registering on the NTP website and are currently assessing providers to ensure that as much high-quality tutoring as possible is available to support disadvantaged pupils. We’re aiming to enrol tens of thousands of pupils in the first six weeks after launch, with provision ramping-up further after Christmas.

The National Tutoring Programme is designed to be a tool for teachers, complementing what goes on in the classroom during an extremely challenging year.

Notes for editors

● In total, 1,381 pupils in Years 5 to 13 in 65 schools received at least one tutoring session through the project, which ran from 29 June to 21 August 2020.

● The pilot was conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation in partnership with the Sutton Trust, Impetus and Nesta, and evaluated by NatCen Social Research.

● Funding was provided by the EEF, Wellcome Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, The Hg Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, Porticus UK and the Inflexion Foundation.

● The four tutoring providers were: Action Tutoring, The Access Project, MyTutor and the Tutor Trust.

● A full evaluation of the pilot project will be available in early 2021.

Notes about the National Tutoring Programme

● The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) aims to support schools in providing a sustained response to the coronavirus pandemic and to provide a longer-term contribution to closing the attainment gap.

● The NTP has been designed and developed by a collaboration of five charities – the EEF, Sutton Trust, Impetus, Nesta and Teach First – working in partnership with the Department for Education.

● The programme for 5-16 year olds has two parts: NTP Tuition Partners, which aims to give schools access to subsidised high-quality tuition from approved providers; and NTP Academic Mentors, which recruits graduates and qualified teachers to work full-time in schools in the most disadvantaged areas.

● The EEF will be leading the delivery of NTP Tuition Partners and has been provided with £76 million from the Department for Education to fund activity in 2020-2021.

● Teach First will support the recruitment, training and placement of the first cohort of Academic Mentors and has been provided with £6.4 million to fund this work. The salaries of Academic Mentors will be funded by the Government.

● Both pillars are funded as part of Government’s £350m allocation to tutoring, through the £1bn coronavirus catch up package.

● Separate tutoring initiatives are in place to support early years and post-16 education.