A local solution to tutoring that actually works!


Recently, the Sutton Trust produced an insightful research paper about the introduction, roll out and early signs of impact of national tutoring programmes. These were introduced as a response to the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable pupils. The report ‘Tutoring – The New landscape’ is worth reading.


The report explains that the reach of the various tutoring programmes is improving but that the majority of the most disadvantaged children are still not receiving any tutoring at all! Where they do receive it, it is on the whole, provided through their school rather than an approved tutoring provider. The report makes clear the need to continue adopting the tutoring approach and for greater oversight of the development of kwality moving forward.

As I read the report, I was reminded of a telephone call Henri Murison, CEO of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) made to me in March 2020, at the outset of the first lockdown. With pupils away from their classrooms, he asked what the likely impact was going to be and what we were going to do about it? Our main concern was for the most vulnerable pupils and how they would be feeling when they returned in the future. We had visions of some unruly young people unwilling to do what they were asked and perhaps being ill-equipped emotionally to manage the transition back to schooling. We realised there was a strong chance that the most disadvantaged would be most adversely affected. Henri indicated he would phone back tomorrow to discuss further.

The following day. we considered a number of initiatives but two looked as though they could have a positive impact and be introduced quickly The first was to try and secure digital devices from businesses and through public donations which could then be prepared for sharing with families with no devices. In the end this approach secured nearly 3000 devices with the Co-op using their stores drop off points. The second idea involved training and employing recent graduates as learning mentors and have them deployed to local schools in time for the students’ return to face to face education. We saw this as a national programme so we started calculating how many mentors would be required and how they would be trained and appointed to schools. The numbers were huge, but we thought it was achievable.

Henri mentioned the strong relationship NPP had with Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) so we constructed a proposal paper whereby the university would be asked to train their students in collaboration with local secondary schools and then deploy them to those schools. If Sheffield Hallam could be persuaded to construct a training programme we could help garner support from other universities for a national roll out. This appeared a neat locally focused solution to a national problem.

We shared our proposal with government officials and things then went quiet. In the meantime, the university’s initial start up fund was supported by additional funding from Barnsley local authority and the combined Mayoral office. This injection of funding enabled the programme to cracked on and resulted in the creation of an accredited programme for recent Hallam graduates to undertake. The schools and the university decided the best route forward was to make the training online for graduates as well as the support for students. It was felt to be more effective and less cumbersome. By now, senior government Ministers had been made aware so they and senior civil servants made a virtual visit to better understand the process and the positive impact.

During the summer an announcement was made explaining that a national tutoring programme was going to be introduced under the oversight of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). EEF created an application process for interested groups and organisations to bid for approval to be a tutoring organisation on the national scheme. Despite applying Sheffield Hallam University was not included in the programme. In fact, only a couple of universities were successful. To be honest we all felt pretty devastated because we knew that the programme was proving to be effective.

Unbowed, the university continued to work with local schools and eventually secured significant funding from the Community Renewal Fund. This enabled the programme to progress until funding dried up at the end of 2022.

The impact of a locally created and delivered programme of support for local school pupils was impressive. Between June 2020 and the end of 2022, the Grow programme supported around 1,500 young people aged 16-19. It employed over 50 local graduates and provided them with intensive, high-quality training to deliver a structured but flexible curriculum, providing two hours of mentoring a week for six weeks for each individual pupil. As the programme developed, an adapted curriculum was written to support those young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) and also 16-19 year olds in special schools. One of the key reasons for the programme’s success was the ability to flex it to meet the individual needs of the mentee, whilst at the same time guide them from their starting point to build a plan for future success. This did include support for academic work but significantly supported them with understanding what was required and helped them with the skills to be successful. Motivation and confidence increased as did re-engagement with education for some who struggled in the aftermath of school closure and disruption, not just to their studies but to their predicted pathways.  

Graduate Mentors reported that the training and experience of mentoring supported their ongoing employment opportunities, as well as providing them with meaningful, impactful employment during lockdown when they themselves had their university education disrupted.

As I reflect on the conversation I had with Henri Murison back in March 2020 I feel privileged to have worked with Sheffield Hallam in developing a local programme that addressed local need. I am disappointed an overly centralised solution for tutoring was introduced that failed to appreciate the need of local schools and their communities. Henri was correct when he stated early on that Hallam would make the programme work. They certainly did.


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