News & Insights 12 February 2021

Positive findings from the EEF report on effectiveness of online tuition in supporting disadvantaged pupils to learn remotely

Delivering online tuition can be an effective way to support the learning of disadvantaged pupils during partial school closures – if supportive measures are in place – according to a new report published today by the Education Endowment Foundation.

The report evaluates the reach of the National Online Tutoring Pilot, commissioned by the EEF in partnership with the Sutton TrustImpetus and Nesta, to support disadvantaged pupils’ learning during and after partial school closures in the first national lockdown. Its aim was to test the feasibility and promise of online tutoring to support learning while pupils, in particular those from low-income backgrounds, were unable to access school in the normal way. It was the first study to look solely at online delivery in England.

The pilot was delivered from June to October 2020 by Action Tutoring and My Tutor, The Access Project and Tutor Trust. In total, the pilot reached 1,425 learners in 65 schools, with 9,800 tuition sessions delivered. The vast majority of pupils were studying for their GCSEs in Years 10 and 11 (ages 14-16). Most pupils received weekly one-to-one sessions on maths, English or science. The majority of pupils receiving tuition were eligible for Pupil Premium funding.

The independent evaluation by NatCen lists five key conclusions:

  • Delivering online tuition during the period of partial school closures was feasible, with high reach in the circumstances.
  • Access to equipment and reliable internet connections were key barriers to participation, particularly for home-based learners, despite the best efforts of schools. Almost half (48%) of schools reported lack of equipment as a challenge.
  • Pupils enjoyed the tuition and there were perceived benefits for learning, with improvements in learners’ confidence, engagement with education and preparedness for new school year reported. The overwhelming majority (87%) of learners said that, if they had the opportunity, they would like to carry on with their tutoring. Three-quarters (76%) said they enjoyed learning more than they did before. 
  • Investing time in building effective relationships between schools and families were crucial in supporting take-up and engagement.
  • Face-to-face tuition is preferred by both tutors and learners to online tuition.

The EEF is delivering the National Tutoring Programme Tuition Partners pillar, which offers subsidised face-to-face and online tutoring to schools from an approved list of 33 Tuition Partners, including Action Tutoring. While there are some key differences between this pilot and the NTP model, notably that some of the tutoring in the online pilot was delivered in the summer holidays rather than in term time, today’s findings provide valuable insight into the benefits and barriers to online delivery.  

Since its launch in November 2020, the NTP has been clear that tutoring – whether online or face-to-face -should take place in school wherever possible, to minimise the barriers highlighted by today’s report. However, with schools currently closed to most pupils, almost all Tuition Partners are offering online at-home tuition to ensure that pupils can still benefit in this period of disrupted learning.

The pilot was co-funded by the EEF, alongside Wellcome Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Hg Foundation, Porticus UK, the Dulverton Trust, the Inflexion Foundation and other funders.