How Global Tutoring Models Could Help To Close the Growing Maths Attainment Gap in the UK

In this article, we outline the key takeaways from the report by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) on global, one-to-one tutoring solutions. With the pandemic negatively impacting children’s schooling, global tutoring models are being assessed as a possible solution to the growing attainment gap.   

Following the periods of partial school closures in 2020 and 2021, the attainment gap across children in the UK has widened. Most studies have estimated that children’s learning loss is around 2 months, but this increases to 7 months in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Maths is thought to be the most affected subject, particularly for younger children.

As a result, there are now more children than ever in need of additional maths support to help mitigate this impact, the majority of these from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

One of the most commonly discussed solutions to help solve this challenge is in-school tuition for pupils who have fallen particularly far behind or are most in need of additional support.

In fact, the government has even launched the new National Tutoring Programme, a two-pronged initiative to help provide in-school one to one and small group tuition to the pupils who need it most, through support from Academic Mentors and approved Tuition Providers.

With the evidence strongly suggesting that one to one tuition is indeed one of the best ways to close this attainment gap, and 1.7 million pupils being eligible for Pupil Premium in the UK alone, it’s clear that the scale of the challenge is huge. We need to look to all possible solutions to ensure each child is provided the opportunities they need to succeed, particularly in maths.

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To help understand one particular potential solution, The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) recently conducted research into innovative tutoring delivery models using the global graduate and undergraduate market, and how these could be used to deliver scalable and affordable tuition to schools.

The report – titled ‘Closing England’s Maths Attainment Gap through One-to-One Tutoring – Global Solutions’ – discusses the overall opportunity that the emerging market economies of South- and South-East Asia provide and presents Third Space Learning as a case study to investigate the practicalities of a global online tutoring model.

Third Space Learning tutors are all graduates and undergraduates based in India and Sri Lanka. This report focuses specifically on Third Space Learning tutors based in Sri Lanka.

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Closing the maths attainment gap through global one-to-one tutoring: key takeaways

Increasing the tutor supply community by millions of tutors

With 1.7 million pupils currently eligible for Pupil Premium in the UK, and even more classed by their schools as disadvantaged and in need of additional support, it’s clear that we’re unlikely to be able to provide the necessary support through the UK workforce alone. We need solutions that open up access to as much support as possible.

IDS state in their report that one potential route is to ‘harness the skills of a highly qualified labour force in the emerging economies of South- and South-East Asia‘. Their research shows that ‘all emerging economies in this region have a majority population with at least a bachelor’s degree or higher‘.

It found that 76% of the labour force in Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand and 60% in India have tertiary education qualifications. This amounts to 537 million individuals in this South-East Asian region, and 296 million individuals in India, in contrast to the UK’s qualified workforce of 29 million people.

The report states that ‘hiring the highly qualified workforce from these countries to serve as online tutors could help achieve equitable social impact’ by increasing employment opportunities and providing a stable income above the local graduate average.

Here at Third Space Learning, we saw a significant increase in the number of schools looking to sign up for support from our tutors from the end of the 2019/20 academic year as schools looked to mitigate the impact of school closures through one to one maths tuition. 

In 2019, over 7,000 pupils were being supported by our tutors each week. By the summer term of 2021, this had increased to over 20,000.

Due to the large numbers of high-quality tutors available to us in India and Sri Lanka –  and the competitive training and pay we offer our tutors – we were able to quickly and efficiently recruit the necessary additional tutors to help the support the thousands of additional pupils who now needed our support.

Combatting the STEM skills shortage in the UK

When looking specifically at maths – which we know is the subject most impacted by school closures and therefore one of the most in need of additional tuition – the report shows a shortage of STEM specialists in the UK. This limits the availability of the UK maths tutor supply even further. 

The IDS’s research has found that 28% of graduates in the emerging economies of South- and South-East Asia specialise in STEM subjects, which is higher than the percentage of graduates in the UK. India in particular has a very high proportion of STEM specialists, with ‘33% of students graduating from STEM disciplines’.

When looking specifically at Third Space Learning, 67% of our tutors in Sri Lanka specialise or have specialised in STEM or maths-related subjects at University. This figure is higher at 89% when looking at our entire Tutor community across both India and Sri Lanka. The remaining tutors are studying or have studied subjects like teaching and law.

By looking overseas, we’ve been able to help combat the STEM skills shortage in the UK, and open up access to more maths specialist tutors for schools and pupils.

Avoiding increased pressure on the workload of teachers in the UK

“As we look for solutions, it is important to reflect that the country’s teachers are significantly overworked. Teachers in the UK, on average work 46 hours a week, longer than their OECD counterparts and for 25-30 percent lower salaries than teachers working similar hours in the United States and Canada.”

These findings make it clear that simply expecting the existing teaching community to take on the additional tutoring responsibilities to support the huge numbers of disadvantaged pupils in the UK is not something that’s sustainable, nor is it fair. 

Looking at other innovative solutions is essential to provide the necessary support to the disadvantaged pupils in the UK without negatively impacting on our teachers’ wellbeing, or indeed risking teacher burnout. We can’t expect our existing teachers to increase their workloads to accommodate the 1.7 million pupils who currently need our support.

If we place the burden solely on our teachers, we’ll risk even higher levels of burnout, impacting not only those pupils who need additional tuition, but everyday classroom teaching too.

Opening up access to tuition that works for school budgets

One of the biggest barriers to implementing one to one tuition for schools is cost. When looking at the Tuition Partners working as part of Year 1 of the NTP, the average one to one tutoring cost is £46 per hour. Given limited school budgets, it’s not always financially possible for schools to provide one to one support to their pupils, despite this being one of the best ways to increase attainment according to the EEF. 

“To provide tutoring as a scalable means of closing the attainment gap, the solution needs to be of a size and budget that the Government can support. The emerging economies of South- and South-East Asia provide a huge opportunity to tap into, for hiring tutors at affordable rates for students of all backgrounds in the UK.”

Findings from the report suggest that the monthly salary in emerging economies of South- and South-East Asia are one-tenth of that in the UK. By looking overseas, we can provide schools with high-quality tutors at a cost that works with their budgets, whilst still paying tutors an extremely attractive salary.

In fact, Third Space Learning tutors in Sri Lanka are paid a wage that is 2.8 times the local average salary of skilled and semi-skilled workers. When adjusted for the cost of living, this is equivalent to £9.60 per hour.

“While this is half of what a tutor in the UK earns, the pay in the local Sri Lankan market represents a significant premium. Consider a hypothetical scenario where the tutor pay were to double to £6.14, this would equalise the real pay (adjusted for cost of living) in the UK and Sri Lanka. However, this would have grave implications for the Sri Lankan economy and human capital development, where working as a tutor would become economically more attractive than specialising as a doctor, engineer, or teacher. Over time, the consequence would be deskilling of the Sri Lankan workforce in the long-run. Hence, while TSL pay of £3.07 may not be equivalent to what a UK tutor earns, it is more than a fair and competitive wage in the local economy.”

As part of this research, IDS surveyed Third Space Learning tutors to understand tutor satisfaction with pay. 84% of tutors are satisfied with the pay structure and benefits provided. 

“Along with the satisfaction gained, TSG [TSL subsidiary in Sri Lanka] does not fail to give us the benefits we wouldn’t receive elsewhere as the pay is quite high comparatively…”

Third Space Learning tutor in Sri Lanka

By recruiting our tutors from India and Sri Lanka, we’re able to provide our tutors with competitive pay that’s well above the local average, whilst providing our schools with high-quality tuition at a cost that works for their budgets.

“Third Space Learning provides one to one tuition for a good value price. Pupils enjoy working with their tutors – they describe them as lovely, friendly and helpful. Good range of sessions. Content of the sessions is appropriate and fits with the scheme of work we use in lessons.”

Becky Cain, Deputy Headteacher, Cranborne Middle School

As part of their research, the IDS also looked into tutor motivation, to understand why overseas tutors apply to teach pupils in the UK. 

For most Third Space Learning tutors, ‘the primary motivation for joining TSL is an opportunity for young adults to earn an income to support their studies and to also gain work experience’. This reflects the high levels of satisfaction with pay and flexibility offered. 

Ensuring tutoring is fit-for-purpose through effective recruitment, training and development

Clearly, employing overseas tutors to support our pupils here in the UK comes with one big challenge; ensuring their knowledge of the UK curriculum, pedagogy and teaching styles is up to scratch.

This is where effective tutor recruitment and training comes in. Not only do they need to be highly skilled in the relevant subject area, tutors based overseas will also need to be proficient in communicating in English and have received dedicated training on the UK education system and what is expected of pupils in the UK. 

During their initial application, all Third Space Learning tutors are required to pass extensive maths and English tests before being taken forward to the next stage. From here, we focus on their ability to effectively deliver lesson content and engage pupils throughout the session. We do this through multiple teaching interviews, where tutors are also assessed on linguistic ability, character and enthusiasm.

Tutors who pass this application process are invited to take part in our purpose-built tutor training programme.

Research from the IDS shows that ‘there is no formal requirement that tutors need any training/certification in the UK’, and that tutors based overseas may actually receive far more training than those based in the UK.

For example, Third Space Learning tutors’ training programme – the Global Tutoring Programme – is an intensive three-week programme followed by regular ongoing Continuous Professional Development (CPD).

By contrast, many tutor training courses in the UK are limited to around 8-32 hours, and come at an extensive cost to the tutor. The Global Tutoring Programme comes at no cost to Third Space Learning tutors, in fact tutors are employed prior to beginning the training and, as such, receive payment for their participation. It’s worth noting that any tutor who does not pass the training will be put on a more intensive support programme before delivering lessons.

The Global Tutoring Programme has been developed by our team of UK ex-teachers and pedagogy experts in partnership with researchers at the University College London’s Institute of Education. It begins with dedicated modules covering the UK curriculum and how pupils learn, and are taught, in the UK.

This covers appropriate language and terminology, teaching styles and the three aims of the UK national curriculum; fluency, reasoning and problem solving. It also goes into detail on the exams UK pupils sit, to enable tutors to effectively deliver our dedicated SATs intervention and GCSE maths revision programmes.

A graph showing the recruitment journey for TSL tutors in Sri Lanka
A graph taken from the IDS report showing the recruitment and training journey for our tutors in Sri Lanka.

Once they begin delivering sessions, tutor CPD takes the form of regular feedback sessions and refresher training tailored to each tutor’s specific strengths and weaknesses. 

The IDS surveyed our tutors in Sri Lanka to understand how tutors felt about the training and development they receive.

“An overwhelming result of this case study is the high levels of satisfaction among TSL tutors with training and feedback, communication with management and overall job satisfaction. At least 94 percent are satisfied with the level of training and feedback; at least 85 percent are satisfied with their communication with the management; and at least 90 percent are overall satisfied with working at TSL.”

This degree of training and development represents a win-win for the tutors and those they’re supporting. Schools and pupils have increased access to high-quality maths tutors, and tutors receive the support they need to succeed and thrive in their career. 

“[Third Space Learning] are able to not only deliver affordable tutoring through highly qualified and motivated tutors to the disadvantaged students in the UK but also create income and employment opportunities for graduates in Sri Lanka.”

A slide from one of the first lessons Third Space Learning tutors work through for pupils preparing for SATs.
A slide from a Third Space Learning SATs revision lesson, where tutors help their pupils to feel more confident and prepared for their upcoming assessments.

An innovative global solution to the challenge in the UK

As this research suggests, looking overseas to recruit high-quality, motivated and well-trained tutors is an approach that can have a positive impact on the tutors recruited and the schools and pupils supported.

If we’re truly serious about closing the maths attainment gap, we need to explore all possible solutions and understand that we cannot solve this huge challenge by using tutors in the UK alone. The financial burden would be too high, there simply aren’t enough of them, and it would place too much pressure on an already overworked teaching community.

Overseas tutors can – and should – work in conjunction with teachers – and in addition to tutors – in the UK, rather than instead of them. Where schools prefer to source tutors from the UK and have found an available solution that works for their budget and workload, we encourage them to pursue whichever option works best for them and their pupils.

But, where supply is limited or costs are too high, we aim to provide schools with an alternative option, without compromising on quality. 

Since 2013, we’ve worked with over 2,500 schools and our tutors have delivered over 1,000,000 one to one lessons to over 90,000 pupils. You can learn more about our tutors here, and hear directly from our schools here.

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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 how the tutoring benefits those in receipt of pupil premium or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.


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