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EEF trial on Affordable Online Maths Tuition

By Sam Southwell 

We’re not the only ones who think that the concept of 1-to-1 tuition delivered online is one that has great potential. At the beginning of 2014 Nesta (now one of our investors) and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) approached us to ask if we’d consider being involved in a trial of ‘Affordable Online Maths Tuition’.

The EEF run a number of trials each year into the efficacy of different interventions in education, with a particular focus on those that seek to close the social attainment gap. The results of their trials are aggregated in their popular and accessible Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

As a very early stage education business in 2014, of course we said yes – who wouldn’t want that level of insight into what works and what could be improved about their offer to schools?

While we now teach pupils from 350 schools across the UK every week, growth has been fast and in 2014 when the trial started we were still only working with 80 schools. So at the start of September 2014, as well as settling in all our existing schools with their one-to-one Maths tutors we also welcomed an additional 32 EEF schools who would be taking part in the research.

Over the course of a fairly intense year of face to face and telephone interviews with the participating schools, evaluators from the University of York and Durham University looked at all aspects of the intervention from set-up and ease of implementation to the quality of the tuition and the response from pupils and teachers. The pupils chosen to receive the intervention of weekly one-to-one online Maths lessons were all Year 6 Key Stage 2 pupils in receipt of pupil premium who were to sit their SATs in May 2015. The evaluation estimated the impact of the programme by comparing the SATs results of pupils involved in the programme to a control group of pupils who received normal pre-SATs teaching in Year 6.

The results of this EEF trial were published yesterday and available here.

The EEF report describes Third Space Learning as “an excellent holistic learning experience via one-to-one tuition that individualises learning and has the potential to accelerate it.” The impact evaluation found no evidence that the programme had an impact on KS2 Maths compared with the “business as usual” teaching and learning support in Year 6.

However staff at most schools (15 out of 19 schools who did the in-depth survey) felt that pupils had improved attainment beyond the usual expectations due to the intervention, and described the progress of their pupils as either good or excellent.The report also stated that “schools were confident that the tuition was beneficial for their pupils’ outcomes in terms of improved comprehension, capacities, verbal fluency and confidence in Maths.”

Teachers were generally enthusiastic. “The programme was really positive in terms of the outcomes… I think it’s helped dramatically… and I think the SATS results will reflect that because I think they’ve jumped levels.”

The pupils shared this view on academic impact “I did better in my SATs because of it… because I knew more things”.

Almost equally important for us however, as a reflection of our own ethos and philosophy of learning were the reports of the confidence and attitudinal changes provided by the one-to-one Maths tuition.

“It made me feel very happy that I’ve got someone there beside me to help me get through it. And [it’s different] with the teachers in class [who] are all rushing about to help other people. So if you’re stuck you can ask [the tutor] for help and she’ll just jump on it straight away and help you.”

From our perspective our participation in the EEF trial was a very positive experience and we’d recommend it to any other education businesses. We received a unique insight into how schools perceive the one-to-one tuition, what makes a successful experience for school and pupil, what gets in the way of a pupil making the best progress on the programme, and how we could improve our offer.

Just under half of the schools who participated in the programme went on to become regular customers of Third Space Learning, and it’s been a privilege to have worked so closely with them over the past two years. One of the conclusions of the EEF report is that the impact from one-to-one online tuition around our key focus on improving pupils’ comprehension, verbal fluency and confidence in maths bear further research and investigation. We look forward to being a key partner in driving forward such research in the future.

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