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Independent Evaluation of the National Online Tuition Pilot

Studying
Published: February 2021

The National Online Tuition Pilot aimed to support disadvantaged pupils by providing fully subsidised tuition during the summer of 2020, during and following the COVID-19 school ‘closures’. The pilot was delivered by four established tutoring organisations and reached 1,425 learners in 65 schools.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) commissioned the Children and Families team at NatCen to evaluate the pilot.

Aims of the study

The overarching aim of the pilot was to evaluate the feasibility of providing online tuition to disadvantaged learners during the COVID-19 school ‘closures’. This aim was underpinned by two objectives:

  • to provide rapid feedback to the tutoring organisations to inform ongoing pilot delivery
  • to draw out lessons learnt to inform future delivery of online tuition

The evaluation was designed to answer five key research questions:

  • Can online tuition reach a high proportion of disadvantaged learners?
  • Can online tuition improve engagement with education for disadvantaged learners?
  • What factors support successful take-up and engagement?
  • Are there particular barriers to take-up and engagement and successful approaches to overcoming those barriers?
  • Are there particular features of programmes that show best promise?

Findings

  • Delivering online tuition during the school ‘closures’ was feasible: Reach was high considering the circumstances and providers, schools, tutors and learners quickly adapted to what was a new learning model for most.
  • Learners enjoyed the tuition and there were perceived benefits for learning: All stakeholder groups felt that learners benefited from the tailored support. They saw improvements in learners’ confidence, engagement with education and preparedness for new school year.
  • Relationships were crucial in supporting take-up and engagement: Investing time in building rapport helped tutors to motivate learners and tailor the support. Providers and school staff worked to identify the best ways to secure parents’ and learners’ buy-in, but were unable to reach all families during the school ‘closures’.
  • Access to equipment and reliable internet connections were key barriers to participation, particularly for home-based learners: Solutions included providing equipment and inviting learners to take part at school.
  • Online tuition lacked some of the benefits of in-person delivery: While the offer of online tuition was highly attractive during the COVID-19 pandemic, most learners would prefer in-person tutoring if given the choice. Tutors found it more challenging to build rapport with learners online, and technical challenges risked disrupting delivery.

Methodology

Our mixed-methods evaluation included analysis of monitoring information and feedback data collected routinely by the four tutoring organisations, surveys of school leads and learners, paired interviews with the strategic leads at the four organisations (‘providers’) and online focus groups with tutors, school staff and learners.