Joint statement on the proposed National Tutoring Programme

Posted by rsl11 at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |

The subject associations for English recognise that the last year has seen a disruption to young people’s education unlike any other since the Evacuation of the Second World War, and welcomes all efforts to provide recovery from the losses sustained in education and welfare, including the £76m Government allocation for Tutoring. Measures to recover from the losses and to re-construct a normal sense of purpose in schools after this year of disruption will have three priorities:

a) to provide secure professional organisational purpose and subject-specific focus for teachers and schools

b) to provide motivation and a sense of purposeful agency in young people’s education and its links to life beyond it

c) to provide public confidence among all stakeholders within education and outside it

 

Gauging the nature of “lost” learning

If the precedent for disrupted education is WW2 Evacuation, it is worth considering that, socially and culturally, most young people were not permanently damaged bv that experience: whilst some will have suffered from the separation from family as well as school, others will have learned valuable things that they would not have learned otherwise. Similarly, the current disruption, serious though it is, is not without some unpredictable positive gains:

  • teachers have reported some evidence of increased independence in students learning at home
  • teachers have developed enhanced professional skills in use of technology, planning and communicating to sustain continuity and progress in home-based learning
  • parents have become much more involved and consequently well-informed about their children’s education
  • parents and others have become more aware of what schools do for young people other than steer them through curriculum specifications, and of the taken-for-granted skills of teachers
  • the unusual circumstances of the last year are likely to have left most youngsters with enhanced knowledge and understanding of epidemiology, public welfare, social responsibility, civic resources and political choices – aspects of citizenship which will last beyond 2021.

Calculating the “lost learning” of the pandemic experience has been largely framed in terms of knowledge-based academic progress. There has also been acknowledgement of a loss of social experience in sharing progress with peers, especially under the direction of stable and significant adults in school who understand, sympathise and motivate young people in ways beyond the promotion and assessment of academic learning. If reviewing the relationship between these strands resulted in some reframing of educational priorities, that would be an something gained from a grievous circumstance.

 

Working towards a “new normal”

The subject associations consider that fulfilling the priorities above requires more than “catching up” on a knowledge deficit. Some of the attributes and purposes of learning that may not have been best managed under the circumstances, despite teachers’ best efforts, are in generic aspects of study and learning other than the acquisition of curriculum knowledge. Hence any policy for restoring lost opportunity should address how and why to learn over what to learn. A “new normal” should be characterised by:

  • restoring learning motivation
  • restoring learning habits through activating interest and agency
  • restoring links between learning and future application
  • restoring the satisfaction of communal engagement with learning, learners and teachers
  • restoring opportunity for non-academic cultural satisfactions such as sport, arts, crafts etc.

This is not to dismiss restoring curriculum content coverage, but to see this as unrealistic in the limited time available in 2021. Filling in curriculum blanks may seem purposeful and restorative but relies upon covering what was originally designed to stretch over two or three years. It may have a possible merit in being plannable and easily measurable, but there is a crucial difference between the landscape of prescribed learning and the pathways through it signposted by core learning purposes and skills.

It should be possible to develop more humane and practical ways of understanding the disadvantages experienced by young people at this time without the concept of “falling behind”, which suggests some failure in a race, some inability to reach a final tape signifying completion. This is a notion unsuited to “catching up” on losses other than curriculum completion. There are greater priorities here, and they go deeper into what is meant by learning, and by education.

The notion of learning “something” is less important in youthful development and welfare than learning how to do or study something, and why to do or study something. Obviously, intending surgeons, pilots, mechanics and translators will need specific content, but for the moment, the urgent need is to restore the longer-lasting core skills of subjects in a way that recovers individual educational well-being and readiness for whatever comes next. That is unlikely to be achieved by extra hours or extra days committed to filling in curriculum blanks. This is particularly true if we start by accepting that, for most young people after five years of secondary education, much of what has been “learned” as curriculum content is cast aside the day of their GCSE exams.

Curriculum-specified knowledge matters, but less than the broader pedagogy of re-kindling and directing student interest. The priority should be a professional judgement of the quality rather than the quantity of learning necessary. More time at school is less important than more focused time at school.

English has always been important to youngsters by providing vicarious exploration of experience and empathy-widening through literature, and by prompting expression of personal and collective experience in spoken, written and performed communication. These are aspects of personal and academic growth which are not dependent upon completed track length ending at a tape. They are aspects of quality, not quantity. This would justify a significantly reduced content coverage, and even, in the current circumstance, some reduced coverage of longer texts.

As an example, Great Expectations may be set as whole text study for GCSE. Covering the whole text (475 pages) requires a substantial time commitment – probably a half term. Whole text coverage allows the Awarding Body to set questions on any part of that study so that the selected part can be awarded an assessed mark. The parts that may be selected may be Dickens’ portrayal of childhood imagination, or London life, or Justice or Family – all things that are valid as extensions of human understanding through literature. But if a professional judgement of how much valuable humane understanding was a minimum worthy of achieving from Great Expectations, the historical, social, ethical and literary merits of the book could be more quickly and memorably developed through (for example) 6 chapters: Chapters 1 (imagination), 4 (children and adults) 8 (identity and social status) 20 (London) 25 (Wemmick at Home) 56 (Justice). The humour, pathos and realism of Dickens as a novelist – the reasons why he is worth study - would be more than adequately conveyed by familiarity with these in 6 lessons, the rest still available to be followed up, or not, in later life. Dickens and students would suffer no disservice, and teacher expertise would have focused on quality rather than coverage – the how and the why of study. Other subjects will have their own ways of selecting the essential merits of the subject.

 

Practicalities

Any proposals for a National Tutoring programme will have at its core the logistics of recruiting, training and monitoring tutors. If it is envisaged that a new work force is to be recruited, qualification and training will be needed to ensure the confidence of students, teachers, Headteachers and parents. The costs of such recruitment and training will be substantial. The task facing those recruited and trained, working in unfamiliar schools, will be substantial. Caution should therefore be exercised in relation to value for money as well as effectiveness. Both these matters belong locally to Headteachers rather than central management. Schools are well aware of the losses sustained by students over the last year, and aware in terms of individuals, not national statistics. In particular, they will know which students, through limited access to technology or parental help, will have suffered greater losses than others. Schools will also be well aware of the resources desirable and necessary to compensate for these losses. If there is to be additional resourcing in personnel, Headteachers will know tutors (previous staff, supply teachers etc) who are familiar with the school and the students, and whose main focus is in students’ personal motivation, aspiration and culture. Schools will also be aware of which existing staff may be capable of extending their role into additional support activities beyond their contracted duties. If the Government grant of £76m is to have maximum impact, it must be used according to local priorities.

A priority of funding should, therefore, be the ability of Headteachers to make their own professional judgements as to resourcing and staffing a recovery programme for their identified students.

 

Proposed provision

The allocation of £76m for this academic year is a welcome substantial investment, but the proposed use of the investment is a cause for concern. Firstly, the allocation coincides with the permanent withdrawal of £55m allocated for Year 7 “catch up”.  We would urge that this be reinstated in addition to the proposed new money. Secondly, we are concerned about the mechanism for delivering the £76m to the students who may benefit. Thirty-three organisations have been approved to provide the tuition through the scheme. Analysis by Education Uncovered shows that just under two thirds are private companies, ranging from larger organisations with turnovers running into tens or hundreds of millions of pounds to single-owner businesses; most of the remainder are charities, including two set up by multi-academy trusts; and a local authority and a university. The prime way in which this scheme may show its value is in the match of provision to Headteachers’ clearly-defined needs. Response to those will have a major influence on the training given to recruited tutors who may not have knowledge of schools and catchments where they may be allocated. This tutor role is likely to be one requiring more than the ability to transmit knowledge. The training of tutor recruits to meet the priorities outlined above will require far more subject and pedagogic suppleness than conferred by academic qualifications. This will be a major test of the appropriacy of out-sourcing this provision to private companies.

The merit of the scheme is promoted as providing tuition to pupils either on a 1:1 basis (a tutor and a pupil) or in groups of up to four young people. Schools are said to benefit from a 3:1 government subsidy. This sees institutions paying only one quarter of what is said to be the “cost” of the tuition, with the government making up the rest. Whilst this may initially seem good value, the test will be whether the proposals gain the confidence of teachers, Headteachers and students. It would not be a good outcome if out-sourcing provision to private companies, as in PPE and Test and Trace, results in a judgement that relatively little financial input reaches the point of use and need.

A crucial question is how much do companies extract from the funding before tutors are paid? One small private company is quoting schools £375 for 15 hours of tuition for three pupils. With the government subsidising the scheme at a rate of 3:1, this works out at £1,500 total cost to the taxpayer, or £100 per hour. Yet the firm advertises on its website that its tutor rate for the scheme is as little as £16 per hour. However well-intended, the proposed use of the £76m this year available to students in schools seems to dilute the sum in recruitment, training, operation costs and – presumably – profit.

An alternative proposal

The subject associations’ view is that this proposal is wholly inferior to funding schools directly to use according to local knowledge and priorities. We urge re-consideration of this proposal, preferably to replace it completely with direct school funding, or possibly to divide the joint allocation of £55m and £76m between direct school funding and some targeted provision mediated by contractors. Schools could decide to make use of both, and evaluate their relative efficacy.

NATE, the EA and the NAAE are prepared to work in any way with any of these in the months ahead, most obviously in relation to English, but also in a relation to wider educational matters.

 

Peter Thomas, PP Trustees, Chair, NATE 2017-21

Rachel Roberts, University of Reading, Chair, NATE

Rob Penman, Chair, EA

Nikki Copitch, Secretary, NAAE

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