Myth busting series: Tutoring is widening the gap in education

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Discover how online tutoring can improve attainment for students who need it and see why schools despite expected losses in funding are continuing to provide it for the next academic year. 

As the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns continue to impact learners, MPs are calling for urgent action to close the widening gaps in education. Our Research and experience (see our 2021/22 online tutoring impact report) tell us that high-quality online tutoring offers clear opportunities to direct essential support to the students that need it most. 

Assessing the impact

The Commons Public Accounts Select Committee recently reported that progress to close the gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers could take a decade to restore. It found that the metric used to measure the difference – which fell from 3.34 in 2011 to 2.90 in 2018 – was back up to 3.23 just last year. 

The statistics are concerning, however, tutoring is a targeted way in which children’s learning can be supported, though different members in the sector may not yet be aware of this, given myths from some quarters that tutoring does not benefit lower attaining students. In fact, current research indicates the opposite. More importantly, it indicates that when done well, online tutoring can help the lowest-attaining learners make significant progress. 

The overwhelming majority of senior school leaders agree: in the very latest report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), published June 2023, more than three-quarters of those currently using the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) said it is improving the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils, while 91% feel it has allowed them to offer support to those students. 

This may be why, despite some planned reductions to future funding for NTP, nearly two-thirds (65%) of senior leaders using the programme plan to continue using it in the 2023/24 academic year.

Leaps in learning 

In the 2021/22 academic year, data on students using Pearson Tutoring in England found that the impact of the online sessions was similarly considerable for schools, with: 

  • Teachers and pupils reporting on improved confidence, understanding and engagement 
  • 76% of students seeing a relative increase in assessment scores before and after maths tutoring across KS2 and KS4 
  • Pupil premium students' scores increasing on average by 80% for Year 11 pupils and 90% for Year 6 pupils. 

Pearson Tutoring offers small group or individual sessions – an approach found by the Education Endowment Fund to be particularly effective for targeted learner support: “the smaller the group, the better”.  

Building skills and confidence 

The results show the measurable value of tutors who are trained to offer tailored support, and who work in collaboration with teachers and parents to maximise students’ engagement more broadly. As fully qualified teachers themselves, in the case of all tutors supporting the Pearson Tutoring programme know the value of such relationships, and will take time to plan and discuss a student’s needs before their first session.

With a close focus on individuals, high-quality tutors can encourage learner confidence, and help to develop their skills and learning techniques (including for exams) – whenever and wherever it suits learners best, including during school holidays.  This is perhaps why, according to the NFER’s June report, 73% of senior leaders believe that programme selection guidance allows them to prioritise pupils most in need of academic support.

Moreover, with a wealth of experienced tutors available to support students with SEND and EAL, high-quality tutors can ensure every learner makes equitable progress, whatever their needs, background or ability. 

Want to start closing the gaps for the next generation? Start by seeing through the myths, and discover how online tutoring could help you.

Pearson Tutoring is part-funded by the National Tutoring Programme, offering recorded, targeted sessions that are available for students at any time - perfect support for long-term knowledge retention and revision. Learn more here. Full funding guidance for online tutoring provisions can be found here. 

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