The most ambitious catch-up scheme in English educational history has returned to schools across the country to repair the damage done to children’s learning by the coronavirus pandemic. The expanded National Tutoring Programme is currently delivering millions of hours of small-group tuition, targeted at the pupils deemed most in-need by their schools.
Protocol Education is proud to be taking part in this landmark programme for a second year as official Tuition Partners. In our first year, we provided extensively-trained tutors to hundreds of schools. This time round, we have grown our operation to meet the demand for high-impact tutoring.
We wanted to know the real, on-the-ground story of the second year of the NTP so far. So we talked to the people best-placed to tell it: the tutors who are hard at work every day helping kids recover the many hours of learning lost to school closures.
Sarah Gunstone and Hannah Saunders are two former classroom teachers who are now delivering NTP tuition in primary schools in Surrey and South West London. The NTP has offered them both an avenue to find some valuable headspace after the “pure exhaustion” of teaching in the time of Covid. “I didn’t want to give up teaching which is my passion and my calling, but I had had enough of losing my evenings and weekends”, Sarah tells me. Hannah has a similar story. “I wanted to become almost a freelance teacher so that I could pick and choose my working times and keep my work/life balance in check. The flexibility of it just works really”.
Both tutors are working with a range of age groups between Years 1 and 6. While the NTP is based on a structure whereby each pupil receives 15 hours of tutoring, typically in groups of three, Hannah and Sarah report that their schools have been accommodating where other arrangements need to be made.
"The flexibility of it just works really"
Sarah has been permitted to divide one of her groups in order to offer one-on-one tutoring to a boy in her Year 4 class who has severe behavioural needs to the extent that “he can’t focus with the other [two pupils] in the room”. At Hannah’s school, the Deputy Head’s granular, data-driven approach to monitoring pupil attainment has given her the latitude to experiment with the teaching format. To conserve the short and precious attention spans of her younger cohorts, Hannah broke the hour segments into two half-hour slots “so that they saw me for 5 afternoons a week, and it really helped them. Seeing me in that routine helped to embed the work I was doing with them.”
The NTP’s model of remedying the most drastic learning gaps through intensive, small-group tutoring means that a lot of the groundwork involves boosting children’s confidence, rather than jumping straight to curriculum content. For those tutees like Sarah’s whose learning has been so impacted that they “can’t read at all”, the first task is finding the self-belief that they can succeed. This involves cultivating “growth mindset skills” that stress the importance of practice and the value of learning from mistakes.
Hannah takes a future-oriented approach, explaining to her tutees that what they’re learning will be crucial for their success at secondary school. “It’s fascinating – I think not enough people have this conversation with young people, because as soon as they make those connections, they think, “oh yes, I get it!”.
These eureka moments are the foundations of how both tutors help their pupils catch up with the curriculum. Sarah utilises a classic ‘I do, we do, you do’ technique to teach concepts like number place value. Hannah’s work in English and Maths involves showing tutees how to “skim and scan” for keywords in reading comprehension tasks, helping them connect unfamiliar numerical concepts to what they’ve already covered in previous years, and encouraging positive reading habits. In all these cases, everything circles back to developing what Sarah calls ‘good learning behaviours’ and positive outlooks.
But is it working? The NTP’s success rests on pupils’ subjective feelings of heightened self-esteem and improved confidence translating into higher academic attainment. School leaders will be anxious to know whether this grand scheme going on within their walls is starting to bridge gaps and bring about measurable progress.
"As soon as they make those connections they think "oh yes, I get it!""
For these tutors, the answer is an emphatic yes. Hannah has seen her tutees “moving two, three, if not four reading band colours up” since she started teaching the NTP. Her pupils’ parents are keen to tell the school about how their child is now a more confident and frequent reader, with a new penchant for reading at bedtime.
Sarah is no less effusive about the results of the project so far. “I’m on week four of my 15 weeks and you can suddenly see pennies drop for children”, she tells me. She credits this to the level of individual attention she can give to pupils and the inspiration that focused tuition can provide to children whose home lives are not always conducive to effective learning.
Hannah agrees. “Even the most reluctant of learners have nowhere to hide. But they’re in a supportive environment and they’re getting listened to, meaning they can feel comfortable with not getting something right first time…it’s the adaptability: rather than being one of 30 you’re one of three.”
Reading the tealeaves of educational policy, it seems likely that the NTP’s blueprint of subsidised, small-group tuition for underperforming kids will become a permanent feature of normal school life.
“I certainly think small-group tutoring should stay. It changes the dynamic, it changes the attitude of the pupil and it means you can make a child more engaged with their learning, and that has to be a good thing really”, says Hannah when I put this to her.
Sarah feels similarly but worries that the net is not being cast wide enough. “There are more than three children at my school who would have benefited from it. Some more high-attaining pupils are meeting their grades as expected. However, those children could have been working at greater depth had it not been for long expanses of being at home.”
"You can suddenly see pennies drop for children"
Hannah and Sarah are clear that their positive experiences with the NTP are the effect of productive, triangular working relationships between schools, tutors and tutoring providers. Hannah is full of praise for her school’s efforts to provide “the right support and freedom. Everybody is trusting of everybody to do their bits of the job correctly. So what Protocol Education have offered is a large amount of support if I need it and the school want it. But equally there’s professional respect of “you’re the teacher, you know best””.
Our educators are our most vital resource, and we are proud to hear tutors like Sarah pay tribute to the “fabulous” backing we have given them in their efforts delivering the NTP. Their expertise and dedication is already making the second year of the scheme a much-needed success for the millions of underprivileged children across the country whose education was dealt such a grievous blow by the pandemic.
We are calling on all educators who want to make a tangible difference to the lives of kids in their region to consider registering as a tutor with the National Tutoring Programme. Your work could turn those pupils’ prospects around and give them an attitude to learning that will stand them in good stead for a long time.
If you are school leader who is concerned about the performance of your more disadvantaged pupils, Protocol Education is here to help you take advantage of your NTP funding packages. We will work with you on finding the right package of small-group, high-impact tutoring to suit your school’s needs and requirements. To bring in the best tutoring talent, just get in touch with our consultants.