EEF Trial On Affordable Online Maths Tuition

We’re not the only ones who think that the concept of affordable online Maths tuition is one that has great potential.

In the early days of Third Space Learning back in 2014, social impact investors 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 startup in 2014, of course we said yes – we wanted to gain insight into how we could improve our initial teacher platform. So at the start of September 2014, as well as settling in 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.

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Over the course of a 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 and are 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, such as schools running 1-to-1 boosters in school themselves.

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.

It should be noted that this was all undertaken at a very early stage of Third Space when we were working with just 80 schools and before we made many of the improvements that make such a difference now.

We now teach pupils from 700 schools across the UK every week, and in our latest trial with Rising Stars, pupils made on average, seven months’ progress over fourteen weeks so we are looking at double progress. This is in line with what the DfE would define as a high quality intervention (2.0 progress).

Since the early stage EEF report, we’ve built out a huge swath of improvements to our school experience. These include:

Our Online Classroom

The EEF reported that some schools faced a small number of technical difficulties which affected sessions. At this early stage, we leased classroom software and we openly admit, it wasn’t perfect. It was designed for adults and was a bit glitchy so as soon as possible, we designed and built an online classroom designed for children learning maths.

The result is an intuitive, seamless online experience for children which also allows our tutors to personalise every lesson. One way they personalise lessons is through the concept bank which allows them to add extra scaffolding to a particular concept a child might be struggling with.

They can also award pupils effort points throughout a session, not for getting an answer correct, but for taking the correct approach to learning maths, and giving it a go. This is just one of the ways that we encourage a growth mindset in Third Space pupils.

Tutor training programme

We have designed and created a tutor training programme with academics from UCL and the Institute of Education, and we wholly own and manage our tutor centre. This is a big investment in tutor quality, which ultimately leads to greatly improved sessions.

Smart diagnostic assessment

Every child is different and has different learning gaps. Even as a teacher, it’s difficult and time consuming to know exactly which pupil has which gaps and providing appropriate support in a class of 30 children is near impossible.

So, we built a diagnostic assessment solution for children to use before their first session with their tutor which helps us to find the individual gaps and misconceptions that each child has. We use this to create a personalised lesson journey which ensures every child receives 1-to-1 support on areas that they need support.

Pupil feedback

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.” This is an area that we have measured consistently over the last 5 years and have seen great impact.

For example, in Autumn 2018, we conducted a study into how our interventions affect a pupil’s affective domain. We found that pupils make improvements in confidence, value, effort and enjoyment of maths. Most importantly, they make the largest gains in their greatest areas of weakness, helping us to create confident, able mathematicians.

tsl impact on affective domain

This view has been corroborated by teachers over the last few years, such as Jane Powell, Assistant Headteacher at Barton Seagrave Primary School who said that Third Space Learning “provides the opportunity for a large number of children to engage in bespoke maths tuition at the same time and the personalised objectives mean that everyone is working at the right level.

The children are engaged throughout the session and are more willing to acknowledge their weaknesses with a stranger than they might be in the classroom with their peers”. We even saw this in the feedback from the EEF report in which teachers were generally enthusiastic.

One said that “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 business.

We received a unique insight into how schools perceive 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. We then implemented this feedback which has helped to make a significant difference to more than 60,000 pupils across the UK.

Conduct a quick health check on your Maths interventions with our blog: So You Think Your KS2 Pupils Need An Intervention (Free 10-step Checklist).

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Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of students across hundreds of schools with weekly online maths tuition designed to plug gaps and boost progress.


Since 2013 these personalised one to one lessons have helped over 150,000 primary and secondary students become more confident, able mathematicians.


Learn about our experience with schools or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.


The Ultimate Guide to Effective Maths Interventions [FREE]

Find out how to plan, manage, and teach one to one (and small group) maths interventions in primary and secondary schools.

Includes a 20 point checklist of techniques to improve your one to one teaching.

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