Lee Elliot Major, Emily Tyers and Robin Chu
We believe a National Tutoring Service (NTS) could help tackle stark education gaps in the wake of the Covid-19 school closures. The NTS is a proposed coalition of tutoring organisations, universities and schools to mobilise undergraduates and graduates to help improve the achievement of disadvantaged pupils in the core subjects of English and Maths across the UK. The service would have multiple benefits: boosting volunteering among undergraduates, offering employment for graduates, and helping teachers in their efforts to level-up education’s playing field.
One-to-one tutoring is a catch-up approach backed by many studies. Trials show undergraduate tutoring can lead to an extra three months’ progress during the school year. But more research is needed. We don’t know how effective online tutoring is, or whether tuition helps older pupils as much younger pupils. Evaluation must be at the heart of the NTS: we need to assess the impact of tutoring undertaken inside and outside schools, and whether paying tutors is needed to maintain quality.
It would tap into an appetite among undergraduates and graduates – and also teacher trainees – to give back to others. Volunteering for the service would appeal to students’ sense of civic duty as ‘AmeriCorps’ does in the United States. Students could be rewarded for their service through discounted fees or academic credits.
The NTS would promote the work of effective charities, social enterprises (and private providers) already delivering a range of successful programmes. Those we enaged with – Action Tutoring, IntoUniversity, Tutor Trust, CoachBright, the Tutorfair Foundation, and the Access Project all agree the need for a national service is more important now more than ever. Major access charities have expressed an interest as well.
The service would boost tutoring capacity in areas of the country where it is needed, and across different education phases. It would enable organisations to extend their reach through online tutoring.
The service would be run by organisations who already have a track record supporting schools and understand the time constraints and pressures teachers are under. As with all aspects of education, the impact would come down to how well programmes are implemented. A critical challenge would be to ensure minimum standards are met for pupils across the country. Major challenges for tutoring programmes can be high attritions rates among tutors, variability in quality, and lack of adequate preparation for tutors.
We estimate that several thousand students are currently deployed as tutors for disadvantaged pupils across the country. With Government backing, a realistic aim would be to enrol 100,000 students into the service benefitting 100,000s of pupils. This would require an injection of funding but could also be supported through Pupil Premium funds. The Government could promote the NTS across the country, developing branded materials for all universities to disseminate. Tutoring organisations would be able to mobilise quickly to scale up their operations.
As schools prepare to address the gaping divides in achievement due to school closures, a national tutoring service would provide a much needed helping hand for future generations.
Our proposal for a National Tutoring Service which has been shared with Government can be found here.
Lee Elliot Major is Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, Emily Tyers is a Teacher of Human Science at Ivybridge Community College, Robin Chu is CEO of CoachBright