During the Conservative Party Conference earlier in October, Boris Johnson stated that he wanted to ‘explore the value of one-to-one teaching, both for pupils who are falling behind and for those who are of exceptional abilities’. The Prime Minister’s belief that such ‘intensive teaching could be transformational and of massive reassurance to parents’ was a head-dropping and heart-sinking moment. I’m sure this was the same for many teachers and school leaders. That is not because we don’t want transformational education, but is because this isn’t the way to achieve it.
Sweeping statements like this have far-reaching implications, not least being the suggestion that teaching and learning in classrooms, with full-class sizes, in schools up and down the county, is not transformational.
That is not to say that one-to-one teaching does not have its value and its place. The National Tutoring Programme is a welcome investment. With the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) leading the delivery of part of this programme, we can be sure that the evidence of the impact of one-to-one and small-group tuition, is enough to assure us that these approaches can be beneficial. At MCA, we are under way with our plans to work with Tutor Trust. We are confident in the outcomes that can be achieved, with some careful planning and from our previous experience.
However, we also know that interventions generally, must come with a word of caution and a potential risk. As we move into the delivery of this programme we should be cautious that tuition, and other interventions, are not seen to be the answer to closing the gap or aiding recovery. This is only part of the answer.
There is a wealth of evidence, captured in a number of the EEF Guidance Reports that our priority for providing the best quality educational experience (let’s avoid the language of recovery) is to prioritise high-quality teaching and learning. In a time where the national conversation is about the impact of the pandemic on education, and the genuine fears about the attainment gap widening alongside an ever-growing concern about the particular impact on students who experience disadvantage, there is a pressure to respond. Respond we should but we have to be careful about the nature of the response and the implementation. By just simply using a one-to-one or small-group model, there is a risk of adding to the potential impact of the pandemic. It is important to note here that there is yet to be any evidence of any long-term impact but understandably and rightly, school leaders are now working on mitigation.
When considering the use of any intervention, it is worth considering the following questions:
- Is the intervention selected a proven programme? If not, how do you know it will have the desired impact?
- Have the right students been selected for the right intervention? What data was used and how robust and reliable is that?
- Who will deliver the intervention? Have they received sufficient training?
- Do the conditions for the intervention allow for fidelity to the programme? If not, could any adaptations affect the impact?
For many schools, Teaching Assistants are an incredibly valuable resource. I don’t need to say here all of the benefits that effective TAs bring to our school communities. But again, the deployment of TAs at a time when there is an increasing perception that interventions provide a solution, is also worth careful consideration. Recommendation 4 of the EEF SEN Guidance Report states: Complement high-quality teaching with carefully selected small-group and one-to-one interventions reminding us that expert teaching from subject specialists in highly effective learning environments is our most powerful tool. Whilst recommendation 5 states: Use TAs to deliver high quality one-to-one and small-group support using structured interventions, highlighting the importance of the questions listed above.
We all know that the logistical challenges of keeping schools open in the current climate, and the guidelines around bubbles and student movement, make the deployment even more challenging. That’s not to say that TAs cannot continue to be highly effective within classrooms. At MCA, we are using the guidelines below to support TAs in still supporting the learning of students in the classroom:
- Be the eyes and ears – scan the room and use non-verbal gestures to ensure students are sat up straight and focused on instruction. Students can’t learn that they are not attending to what they should be learning
- Use retrieval questions and open-ended questions (how do you know? Where else have you used that?) – take notes from the starter recall and retrieval task and revisit with targeted students. You can use post-it notes/mini whiteboards to do this
- Also use post-it notes/mini whiteboards to provide scaffolds and prompts – vocabulary/model sentences/success criteria
- Use targeted positive praise
Sweeping statements and simplified soundbites might grab attention, but to be truly transformational we must keep our confidence in what we know works in the classroom.