The Sutton Trust estimate that nearly a quarter (23%) of UK schoolchildren aged 11-16 in England and Wales have received some private or home tuition, with the proportion of students receiving tuition has increasing from 18% in 2005 to 23% in 2011. It is clearly a growth industry, but it would only be natural to ask yourself if it works and why.

Now you are going to have to bear with me as I try and get under the covers of this, and delve into the world of statistics – and standard deviations in particular. For those that understand this great, the rest need not worry I will interpret the stats for you.

Some people in the industry will tell you that tutoring can improve exam results by 2 standard deviations – each improvement of 0.5 standard deviations is equivalent to an increase in one grade. So a 4 grade improvement, potentially taking a grade D student up to a grade A.

This is based on the research of Benjamin Bloom in the 1980’s. For some students receiving plenty of quality hands-on tutoring support this may well be correct, but honestly most of us in the industry think that this level of improvement is very optimistic.

For those cynics out there, including me – there is much more up to date research that provides us with more realistic expectations of what tutoring can achieve. Kurt VanLehn a Professor at Arizona State University, published a paper in 2011 entitled “The Relative Effectiveness of Human Tutoring, Intelligent Tutoring Systems, and Other Tutoring”. Riveting title I know, but he analysed 100+ academic papers, and has added some real insight into the proven effectiveness of tutoring.

What was interesting was that he found that on average students who had received tutoring improved by 0.79 standard deviations – enough to comfortably move a student one and a half grades. It could mean moving a student from a low D to a good C, or a low B to a good A grade.

Lest we forget, this level of improvement may be sufficient for the student to pass their exams or get the grades to go to their preferred school, Sixth Form or University.

Anyone who knows about the flaw of averages will also tell you to be careful with this data because it will hide the children that improve by 2+ grades those who do not take to tutoring at all, but the writing is on the wall – these studies prove that tutoring is effective, and results in higher exam grades.

So the next big question is why tutoring works. Why is it different to classroom teaching?

Kurt’s view is that it works because students are motivated and engaged in learning, discussing the problems and thinking for themselves. Tutors spend more time on the areas that need reinforcing – breaking down problems into a series of steps, checking understanding and providing feedback as they go – called guided prompting or ‘scaffolding’ – creating the framework required for effective learning.

In my experience, tutoring works because it is one to one. The student gets all of the tutors time – unlike a busy classroom where teachers simply do not have the time it takes for this level of support.

I hope that you have found this blog post enlightening.

Please feel free to share it and post comments. I would love to hear your thoughts on why tutoring works.




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