Tuition in FE: Success depends on a better evidence base

The national tutoring programme has sparked thriving conversation and research about tuition, writes Alice Eardley, but FE is largely absent from both

The national tutoring programme has sparked thriving conversation and research about tuition, writes Alice Eardley, but FE is largely absent from both

11 Dec 2022, 5:00

Last week, the very first national tutoring summit took place in London. A little over two years on from the introduction of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), this inaugural event brought together schools, tuition partners, research organisations, and think tanks to explore the power and potential of small-group and one-to-one tuition.

As with all good conferences, I left with a renewed sense of purpose, buzzing with new ideas, and keen to get started with new projects. But I also have a big question: what is happening in further education?

We know that tuition can have a highly positive impact on learning and progress, particularly for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. According to the EEF, small group tuition can provide an additional 4 months’ progress while one-to-one tuition can provide an additional 5 months’ progress. It is an invaluable tool for supporting learners with low prior attainment or who are struggling with particular topics.

A key focus of the Summit was how schools, often working with tuition partners, might draw on recent studies into tuition best-practice to ensure that learners derive maximum benefit from the sessions. Ofsted, the EEF, and the NFER have all highlighted the value of accurate assessment of student needs, sessions targeted at specific gaps in knowledge and skills, and close working relationships between tutors and teachers.

Central to the discussions of the research underpinning our developing knowledge of effective tutoring was an emphasis on the value of micro-research. While macro-studies provide evidence of impact at scale, of the kind that is useful for ministers and policy makers, what practitioners often need are micro-studies – the kind generated through peer discussions and communities of practice that reveal precisely what approaches and techniques have worked in particular settings and contexts. There were calls for far more of this kind of research.

Which providers are doing what, with whom, and how?

And this is where my question comes in. What, exactly, is happening in further education? A year after the NTP was introduced, the DfE created the tuition fund to ensure that 16- to 19-year-old learners can also benefit from small group and one-to-one tuition. As a sector that supports a high proportion of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or with special educational needs and disabilities, it makes sense that further education should be deploying a strategy identified as conveying particular benefits to those groups.

We know that effective tuition is happening in the further education sector. Ofsted has recently published phase one of its review of 16-19 provision, highlighting the value of tuition that is aligned to the wider curriculum and targeted at gaps in learners’ knowledge.

Working within a further education tuition partner, I know that our own work with colleges has helped to support student achievement in English and maths GCSE resists, with students who attended 12 tuition sessions being almost twice as likely to secure their grade 4. But it would now be good to hear far more about this provision: Which providers are doing what, with which students, and how are they doing it?

Within the national conversations about tutoring there is plenty of room for voices from further education that would help us to better understand what is happening – on both the macro and the micro levels. What do we know about the deployment of small-group tuition to support English and maths, vocational studies, personal development, adult learners, and apprentices? What are our communities of practice uncovering that might be shared and magnified? Which organisations are conducting the macro-studies needed to explore the widespread impact of tuition on post-16 learners?

While tuition, with all the benefits it conveys to the learners who need them most, remains a subject of national and political interest, how can we work together to ensure that further education is at the heart of the discussion?

The fact that the answers to these questions are not readily available is telling. In light of the introduction of the DfE’s new tutoring advisory group, it’s time that the sector and its policy makers grasped the opportunities to better our understanding – and young people’s educational outcomes.

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