Yesterday the Prime Minister declared, with his usual melodramatic delivery, that schools will return in September with 'full attendance!' After lowering the social distancing requirement from two-metres to one+ (masks if it's necessary to be close together) and the steadily decreasing R-rate, perhaps this statement isn't as optimistic as it might appear. Whether or not you believe in BoJo's rhetoric, the fact remains that children and young adults in the UK desperately need to return to a stable education.
In this post, I will be examining some of the research behind the drive to place tutors into schools to provide support to both the students, with the immense amount of work they will need to catch up on, and teachers, to ensure the need for extra help doesn't detract from their ability to deliver the curriculum before exams begin in 2021. Again, the uncertainty surrounding when these exams might take place is yet another stress point for schools and students who potentially face another year of disruption. And yet, if the research is to be believed, catching up will be more than feasible as I will go on to explain.
Why we need an intervention.
According to research by the LSE, the 'learning slide' we are hearing so much about has been gaining traction long before COVID-19 entered our vocabulary. Studies show that pupils from families with the resources to pay for extra tuition are considerably further ahead than those students from vulnerable or poorer homes. Since the lockdown, LSE have found that from a sample of 2 million students, one in five had done very little to no school work since schools closed. The combination of the learning slide already on course to widen the education gap significantly, and the impact of lockdown, which has so far left students without supervised or routine education for three months and counting, could have a catastrophic effect on this generation of students. The EEF (2020) warn that lockdown has reversed a decade's worth of efforts to decrease the education divide, but currently the research presents a span of potential percentages in terms of how much that divide has grown. However, they have found that remote learning and sustained support, particularly to disadvantaged pupils, can prevent the gap from becoming irreversible.
Two factors that could help or hinder the progress of students in the current climate are access to technology and parental involvement. In terms of technology, it is clear that those students from poorer areas have less access to technology to help with remote learning. But, there is another significant aspect to be considered and that is, if students do have technology available to continue their studies online, this is only as effective as the methods used by schools and teachers to support them. The EEF (2020) detail the need for training for teachers in using technological platforms that they may not have used before lockdown, in order to provide adequate feedback and scaffolding during their delivery. Moreover, parents also need a basic understanding of how the technology works, particularly for younger students who may need help setting up a device to engage with remote learning.
Parental involvement with their child's education has long been recognised as a deciding factor in educational achievement and now more than ever, schools need to find ways to effectively communicate and collaborate with parents for seamless remote learning. As it stands, this is a difficult relationship to forge, even without the constraints of lockdown and is an area that could potentially be bridged by tutors who have strong communication channels with parents. Thus, the NTP could present an opportunity not just to decrease the impact of education loss due to school closures, but also to create communication channels previously absent.
What can the National Tutoring Programme achieve?
With the right support from 1:1 tuition, students have the potential to gain back five months of learning in a relatively short time (Major & Higgins, 2019). This opportunity will reach around 2 million students in the UK at first and there have been some suggestions that this is a long term proposal, rather than a reactive measure following lockdown.
The EEF's 'Teaching and Learning Toolkit' (2018) found that one to one tuition has a moderate impact on student development for a high cost. As we have seen, the government have pledged £350 million for the NTP and hopefully this will be just the start. One of the main reasons private tutoring has remained inaccessible to students from poorer backgrounds is the high cost, but with public funding, the potential gains are exciting to say the least.
So what will the programme look like? We are still waiting for the finer details, but the EEF (2018) have given some insight into the most effective structures for tuition to boost achievement. They suggest 'short, regular sessions (about 30 minutes, three to five times a week) over a set period of time (six to twelve weeks) [which] appear to result in optimum impact’ (Teaching and Learning Toolkit, 2018). As I said in the previous post, the funding is for schools to decide how they want to implement the NTP and this could be 1:1 sessions or small group tuition. There is some debate surrounding how effective small group tuition can be in comparison to 1:1, but either way the extra input will benefit pupils which is critical, especially in relation to their core subjects.
Much of the research I have referred to in this post was carried out before the lockdown and looked at summer closures as opposed to the sustained closures that we are seeing now. Nevertheless it gives us a fairly good understanding of what needs to be done in order to counter the loss of stable and sustained education for all ages.
Of course there is still much uncertainty - will £350 million be enough to save students about to go into their final exam years? Will we have another wave of COVID-19 in the winter, as so many scientists are suggesting, causing another lockdown? And importantly, how will we respond if there is?
Now is the time to develop strategies for remote learning procedures, training programmes for teachers, parents, tutors and students in how to deliver and learn using technology.
Next time: In the final post of this week, I will begin to introduce some of the technologies that can have the biggest impact on student participation and interactivity. How to implement and choose which is the right platform for you. And, I consider the benefits of summer school programmes operating remote learning. Friday 26th June @ 11am.