The Secret To Effective In-School Tuition: The Quality And Training Of Your Tutors

In this article, we’re going to show you the 10 most important lessons we’ve learnt about the best tutor training principles for one to one maths teaching.

These lessons have been refined over 8 years of training maths tutors and providing online tuition to 20,000 pupils across the UK each week. Even now, we continue to refine and improve our processes to ensure we can support these pupils effectively.

With additional funding now available for in-school tuition, the option of bringing in a tutor or purchasing a tuition programme is more popular than ever, but it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to be confident in the quality of the training each tutor has received, and that they’re effectively equipped to support your pupils as best as possible.

Let’s get started by considering the kind of maths dialogue happening in schools every week between Third Space Learning tutors and UK pupils. These types of conversations are what our online tuition programmes, and tutor training, are all about; they can help elicit thinking and build confidence in the one to one learning environment.

Tutor: So what does the question show, Jessie?
Pupil: It shows a group of counters and asks for the ratio of red to blue and the fraction of red counters.
Tutor: And what do you know about ratio?

The tutor uses open questions to uncover prior knowledge.

Pupil: It is when you compare the size of two groups. There are three red counters and four blue counters, so the ratio of red to blue is three to four and the fraction of red counters is three quarters.
Tutor: Really good effort in trying the question in one go. You are right. The ratio of red to blue is three to four. Let’s just look at the fraction again? What does the denominator tell us?
Pupil: How many parts there are in total.
Tutor: And how many parts are there?

The tutor uses more closed, scaffolded questioning.

Pupil: Seven… oh, so the denominator is seven.
Pupil: And how many of them are red?
Pupil: Three… so three of the seven parts are red, so the fraction is three out of seven or three sevenths.

The tutor can rephrase and explain if the student is unsure.

Tutor: Excellent, Jessie. So what fraction of the parts are blue?

The tutor can check understanding with post-assessment questions.

Pupil: Four out of seven or four sevenths!
Tutor: Fantastic, Jessie. Are you feeling confident now? Let’s check with some more questions!


Third Space Learning’s 10 lessons for effective tutor training

Lesson 1: Make sure you have a well-structured initial tutor training programme

For us, it’s our Global Tutoring Programme (GTP). The GTP is a bespoke tutor training programme completed and passed by all Third Space Learning tutors. It’s been designed by our team of experienced former UK teachers in partnership with researchers at the University College London’s Institute of Education.

Our tutors are based in India and Sri Lanka, where there is a huge population of passionate, English speaking graduates and undergraduates who love maths. This is a central part of our commitment to providing affordable, accessible, and high-quality maths tuition to schools.

After the application and selection process (see Lesson 2), hired tutors are enrolled in the GTP, which takes three weeks to complete. Our training programme consists of a number of purpose-built courses, such as:

  • Understanding the UK national curriculum and how pupils are assessed
  • Delivering student-centred teaching
  • Building rapport and personalising lessons to age and ability
  • Using effective assessment for learning techniques
  • Identifying and addressing misconceptions
  • Fostering a growth mindset and promoting pupil voice, autonomy and reflection
  • Dealing with disengaged pupils 
  • Using lesson content to adapt pace
  • Supporting pupils with maths anxiety
  • Successfully evaluating sessions
  • Understanding safeguarding policies and promoting pupil wellbeing

The GTP ends with a test lesson with one of our Academic Coaches and final assessments on subject knowledge, student-centred teaching and familiarity with processes. Only once tutors have successfully completed and passed the entire programme can they begin delivering one to one sessions to pupils in the UK.

Third Space Learning's tutor training programme portal
Third Space Learning’s tutor training programme portal.

Why do teachers trust our tutor training programme?

We asked Graeme Criddle, Third Space Learning’s Head of Training and Development, to tell us why any school leader should be confident in the effectiveness of the Global Tutoring Programme, and Third Space Learning’s tailored interventions.

With over ten years of experience teaching maths in UK schools and colleges, and now extensive experience working directly with our tutor community, Graeme knows what works – and what doesn’t work – when it comes to tutor training.

“It’s the sheer breadth of courses included. It’s so comprehensive. The tutors learn a great deal, but it’s very specific and very practical; it’s not just passive learning, they’re actively involved and have to apply their learning every step of the way.”

He also went on to discuss the different types of training involved, from lesson recordings and simulations, to videos and Q&A sessions. This suite of resources helps to ensure tutors have all the strategies and skills they need to provide the best possible teaching.

“This kind of practical training is particularly useful for teaching maths, as it teaches tutors to respond to a pupil and diagnose individual gaps and misconceptions during the lessons themselves.”

When it comes to tutor training, Graeme believes in nurturing and developing the mindset and motivation of the tutor, not just their academic or teaching ability.

“Our tutors really value the opportunity to learn these skills. They’re hugely motivated to do well and teach well, and have a positive impact on the kids they’re teaching. It’s wonderful to see.”

If you’re looking to make tutoring work in your school, we recommend a well-structured training programme that establishes an inherent level of quality across all tutors.

Want personalised online lessons to support your target pupils?

Learn more about how our 1-to-1 interventions work on a 10-minute call. You’ll have a chance to see the platform, review our curriculum and ask as many questions as you like.


Lesson 2: Recruiting the right tutors is key – don’t compromise on the application process

Effective tutor training ultimately stems from effective tutor selection. With over 1,000 schools trusting our tutors to support their pupils every week, we need to be sure that only the best tutors are enrolled in the GTP.

This means implementing a rigorous selection process to find the highest-quality candidates, not only in terms of mathematical ability, but teaching ability too. 

All tutors are required to be a graduate or undergraduate to apply for a Third Space Learning role. 89% of our tutors are studying for or have completed STEM or maths-related degrees, and the remaining 11% hold or are studying for degrees in other specialisms, such as teaching. All tutors must complete and pass an initial online application followed by maths and English assessments in order to be taken forward to the next stage.

Once we’re confident in their subject knowledge, we move on to assessing how well they can teach, how effectively they deliver lesson content, and how well they can engage pupils. This is conducted through two teaching interviews, which also assess linguistic ability, character and enthusiasm. From here, roughly 2% of applicants are taken through to the training programme.

At the end of the initial training programme, tutors are assessed for competency through a Final Practice Assessment and Final Theory Assessment.

The aim of the GTP is to provide tutors with a necessary understanding of education in the UK and the core tutoring principles at Third Space Learning:

  • Adaptive assessment and instruction
  • Engaging interaction
  • Growth mindset
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Linguistic and mathematical accuracy

The GTP also aims to engage trainee tutors, motivating them to learn new skills and ensure they feel confident and excited to start tutoring.

If you’re thinking of implementing one to one teaching or tuition in your own school, it’s important to look beyond subject knowledge when choosing a tutor or tutoring provider. Just because a tutor is excellent at maths, doesn’t mean they’ll be excellent at engaging pupils in the subject, or teaching it in a way that your pupils respond to.

Tutors and coaches working together at a table
Tutors and Coaches working together to develop and grow.

Lesson 3: Tutors need to know inside out the curriculum and syllabus that students are following

The GTP is founded on up-to-date resources and research, underpinned by an understanding of maths mastery, and follows the new national curriculum.

Indeed, our tutors begin the programme with extensive training on the UK curriculum. This includes an in-depth study of UK terminology and language, thus equipping tutors to develop each pupil’s skills in line with the three aims of the national curriculum:

  • Procedural fluency
  • Mathematical reasoning
  • Problem solving

At Third Space Learning, we have dedicated intervention programmes for KS2 SATs revision and GCSE revision, so our tutors need to know the strategies and methods required for exam success in the UK, across both SATs and GCSE. This includes how to teach problem solving effectively, breaking down exam-style questions, and the structure of the exams in Year 6 and Year 11, which should be a useful addition to any classroom!

SATs revision lesson slide
An example of a Third Space Learning SATs revision lesson!
GCSE revision lesson slide
An example of a Third Space Learning GCSE revision lesson!

For tutoring to work in your school, the tutor(s) would need a comprehensive understanding of the curriculum, national context and exam system. Tutoring should not be devoid of the bigger picture or educational context in which the pupil inevitably exists.

Read more about GCSEs:
Read more about SATs:

Lesson 4: Every pupil’s context and gaps are different – and tutors must be trained to adapt accordingly

Schools choose one to one teaching for their pupils because of its ability to provide personalised support to individuals. This means not only personalising the lesson content to suit, but also being empathetic to each pupil’s educational context.

What sort of level are they working at? What exams will they be sitting? What topics do they struggle with, or what misconceptions do they have?

As well as understanding where a pupil is at in their school journey, tutors also need to gauge each pupil’s individual gaps and misconceptions to personalise the delivery of every lesson. During their training, tutors learn why adapting the pitch and pace of their lesson is so important, and how to do this effectively to ensure their pupil is confident with each concept before moving on to the next.

Tutors are also trained in assessing knowledge, creating meaning and evaluating progress in different parts of the lesson, as well as how personalisation strategies might differ for older and younger pupils, which is especially relevant when comparing SATs to GCSEs.

Past session recordings help tutors identify where tutors have successfully personalised their lessons, including adapting to specific needs or when pupils are feeling less engaged.

“The children have loved the personalised learning and having a one to one with their tutor. It has been lovely to hear them explain their thinking.”

Karan Johnson, Moss Hall Junior School

If you’re considering using external tutors in your school, these tutors must be attuned to the individual needs and gaps of individual pupils to deliver a unique learning experience.


Lesson 5: Empathy and rapport – put yourself in their shoes

In our experience, putting the tutor in the pupil’s shoes is one of the best starting points for developing effective one to one tutors. If the tutor doesn’t understand what it’s like to learn in this way, how can they expect to teach effectively?

Once our tutors have mastered what it’s like to be a UK pupil, they are ready to start experimenting with our platform and begin their practice sessions. Initially, tutors will take on the role of the pupil, with one of our experienced assessors playing the tutor and demonstrating best practice. Only when they’ve truly understood what it’s like to learn in the Third Space Learning classroom do they move on to assuming the role of the tutor.

In fact, every single new starter at Third Space Learning – from the Customer Support Team to the Product Development Team – takes on the role of the pupil and receives a one to one lesson in their first week of the job. This immersive experience helps everyone to understand the needs of the pupils we’re all working every day to support.

For tutoring to work in context at your school, the inextricably human element of these interactions must not be underestimated, even in online sessions.


Lesson 6: If the pupil’s not actively involved it’s not going to work; it’s on the tutor to encourage true engagement

At Third Space Learning, we believe in student-centred teaching. The best way to boost progress and build confidence in one to one maths lessons is to actively involve pupils in their own learning. Much like tutor training, this shouldn’t be a passive experience.

By training tutors to encourage pupils to take the lead in their learning journey, discuss the methods they’re using and verbalise their approach, we’re putting the pupil at the heart of the lesson and providing as many learning opportunities as possible.

“The fact that children have to speak with their tutor and explain their reasoning develops confidence and their use of mathematical vocabulary.”

Karyn Astle, Deputy Headteacher, Buckingham Park Primary School

For active student-centred teaching to be effective, the pupil has to be engaged throughout their lessons. That’s why our training programme focuses on building rapport with pupils and engagement strategies, such as starting off on a positive note, making the pupil feel valued, using the appropriate tone and register, giving praise, and encouraging the pupil to take on the role of the tutor; explaining something often consolidates our understanding of it.

Helping pupils to develop a growth mindset is also particularly important. Tutors are trained in different approaches for pupils with different mindsets, how to give praise in a way that supports a growth mindset and how the tutors themselves can practise adopting a growth mindset inside and outside of their sessions.

If your school is looking to bring in tutors or employ a tuition provider, you may find more success if you focus on tutors who have been trained to put the pupil in the driving seat, rather than simply being a passenger along for the ride.


Lesson 7: Assessment for Learning is still a key part of dialogue in a successful lesson

Assessment for Learning is central to any Third Space Learning intervention programme and, as such, tutors need to be effectively trained in using these techniques to get the most out of the pupils they’re teaching.

Definition of Assessment for Learning

Assessment for Learning (AfL), also known as formative assessment, refers to any assessment activity that guides learning. Unlike summative assessment, which evaluates pupil knowledge and achievement after a period of learning is complete, Assessment for Learning involves evaluating small content areas as part of the ongoing learning process. – National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)

Before they begin learning with their dedicated tutor, each pupil sits an initial diagnostic assessment to help us understand their individual gaps and inform their personalised learning journey. At the end of each lesson, pupils are asked a few short questions to reinforce what they’ve learnt, and assist us in continuously recalculating their journey.

Pupil's initial assessment report
A Third Space Learning pupil’s initial assessment results, showing gaps diagnosed
and which Learning Objectives have been added to their personalised learning programme.

The AfL course in the GTP furnishes tutors with the strategies they need to assess and adapt within the lessons themselves. This includes understanding how pupils are assessed before, during and after the programme, identifying good AfL techniques to diagnose learning gaps and misconceptions in real-time, and exploring effective (and ineffective) questioning strategies. To reinforce this, tutors also watch clips of sessions to ‘see it in action’ and discuss when it’s been successful or where they feel it could be improved.

“It has really made a difference to our students. The assessment of their level of understanding which is then built upon with lots of positive reinforcement is very successful. It’s time very well spent.”

Alison Tanner, Maths Leader, Cameley CofE VC Primary School

When considering tuition in your own school, it’s important to make sure the lessons are informed by regular assessment, and that any tutor or teacher training equips tutors to ask the right questions of their pupils.


Lesson 8: Training is an ongoing process: instil a culture of continuous professional development

It’s no good investing all that time into a really engaging and effective tutor training programme, only to stop once the tutor has begun delivering sessions. Just as teachers don’t stop learning once they begin teaching, tutors must receive ongoing training and development to ensure their lessons continue to be as effective as possible.

Our tutors are invited to fortnightly CPD sessions which include videos, example sessions and personal assessments. This is compulsory for new tutors for the first six weeks. There are also fortnightly assignments in which tutors are encouraged to identify good and bad tutoring practices from real-world examples. All tutors are assessed at least every term, with new tutors undertaking assessments more regularly.

Tutors seated in a training session
A tutor training session at Third Space Global, our Sri Lankan tutor centre.

Because all Third Space Learning sessions are recorded for training and safeguarding purposes, tutors regularly review and evaluate past sessions to identify where they might be able to improve, or which strategies are working best. They can also share these experiences with other tutors to develop their learning as part of a wider tutor community.

Academic Coaches pick and evaluate sessions at random throughout the term and provide written feedback to the tutor. Coaches also provide one to one and small group sessions with their team, and are given the flexibility to customise the training to their needs.

As part of this process, if a senior member of the tutoring team notices that a tutor might need a little more support to help them deliver the most effective sessions, they will receive a personalised support plan to assist their development and improvement.

“The personal and professional support given at Third Space Global is tremendous.”

Hanan Ameen, Third Space Learning Tutor

As well as helping our tutors to continuously develop and improve, ongoing training also helps to motivate tutors and provide a clear progression pathway. Tutors know that they will continue to learn and, as they do so, can move on to more experienced tutor positions, such as leading their own team of tutors or coaching others.

Many of our tutors also progress into our global tutor management team. This motivation and ambition is a fundamental part of what makes our tutoring programme so successful and effective; they’re not ‘just a tutor’, they’re part of a community where they are encouraged to thrive and support one another.

When thinking about tutoring in the context of your school, remember that the tutor should never be seen as the finished article. Every lesson offers an opportunity for development and new perspectives to be realised, both for the pupil and the tutor.

Read more:

Lesson 9: A training programme is never ‘finished’; keep reviewing and adapting it

Just as training shouldn’t end once tutors begin delivering sessions, the development of the tutor training programme shouldn’t end once tutors begin training! The programme must be subject to a regular and thorough review to confirm that it’s still meeting the needs of the tutors and, of course, the pupils they’re teaching across the UK every week.

Our Academic Team reviews the GTP every year, ensuring it remains as relevant, robust and engaging as possible. This involves analysing all the data and feedback we collect from our schools, pupils and tutors, and making any necessary changes to the training programme and to the intervention programme itself.

As with teachers up and down the country, the Coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on the everyday lives of our tutors. Unable to go into the physical Tutor Centres for their training sessions, the tutor training programme had to undergo a radical transformation.

At first, all sessions were translated into an online format, but with little change to the content itself. However, as time went on, online training sessions were adapted and improved to bring in more interactivity and an enhanced trainee experience.

For any tutors working with your pupils, it’s important to make sure the training they receive – both the content and the method of delivery – is reviewed regularly and updated accordingly.

You can discover a variety of CPD support in Third Space Learning’s Maths Hub.


Lesson 10: Your first responsibility is the safety of any pupil in the session

As well as receiving training on delivering effective maths lessons and all the techniques and strategies involved, our tutors also receive extensive safeguarding training and advice on supporting pupil wellbeing to ensure pupil safety remains a priority throughout.

Safeguarding training is refreshed every year and it covers how to understand the signs of abuse and neglect, how to respond to concerns appropriately, and the correct procedures for reporting concerns or incidents arising during sessions. Where possible, this training uses real-life anonymised examples from various situations.

Inviting an external tutor or tutors into your school to support a group of your pupils is not a decision to be taken lightly. You need to be sure that your pupils feel safe and comfortable, and that all the necessary safeguarding procedures are in place.


A comprehensive, practical and long-term approach to tutor training

As we’ve seen, there are lots of ingredients that go into developing an effective tutor training programme, and it goes far beyond simply creating a few courses.

It’s essential that any tutor who will be working with your pupils has sufficient training on the content and curriculum in place, examines the techniques and strategies available to get the most out of pupils, and receives regular and ongoing training throughout their career.

We believe that these 10 lessons will dramatically alter the quality of tuition your pupils receive, and the outcomes your tutors achieve.

Do you have pupils who need extra support in maths?
Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of pupils across hundreds of schools with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons and maths interventions designed to plug gaps and boost progress.

Since 2013 we’ve helped over 80,000 primary and secondary school pupils become more confident, able mathematicians. Learn more or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.

Maths intervention programmes with a dedicated and trained tutor who works on pupils’ individual gaps.

Lottie Bates
Lottie Bates
Third Space Learning
Content Team
As a member of the content team, Lottie makes sure that the amazing blogs and resources on offer from Third Space Learning arrive safely in your inbox every week!
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Downloadable resource

Want personalised online lessons to support your target pupils?

Learn more about how our 1-to-1 interventions work on a 10-minute call. You’ll have a chance to see the platform, review our curriculum and ask as many questions as you like.

Find Out More!

Want personalised online lessons to support your target pupils?

Downloadable resource

Learn more about how our 1-to-1 interventions work on a 10-minute call. You’ll have a chance to see the platform, review our curriculum and ask as many questions as you like.

Find Out More!