A Champion for Every Child: A case study of one-to-one tutoring provision

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
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A Champion for Every Child is a pastoral tutoring programme that has had a notable impact for thousands of Pupil Premium pupils across the Kemnal Academies Trust. Emma Lee-Potter finds out how it works in practice at Smarden Primary School

From listening to children read to helping with anxiety issues, ACE tutors at Smarden Primary School are enabling disadvantaged pupils to progress academically and improve their outcomes and life chances.

The school, situated in a leafy Kent village, introduced the ACE programme in September 2021. The pioneering initiative offers one-to-one pastoral tutoring to Pupil Premium pupils at 45 primary and secondary schools run by the Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), a multi-academy trust in the south and east of England.

Smarden Primary launched ACE (it stands for A Champion for Every Child) in September 2021. The school is relatively small, with 166 pupils on roll, a mix of children from rural families and youngsters whose families have recently moved out of London. A total of 11% are Pupil Premium pupils – 15 children in the main school and three in the pre-school.

Headteacher Claudia Miller is a firm advocate of tutoring for Pupil Premium children. She introduced a similar idea at her previous primary school in Tunbridge Wells and brought it with her when she became head at Smarden three years ago.

Children taking part in the ACE programme at Smarden Primary meet individually with their assigned tutor for 50 minutes every week.

The vision is that the school’s 12 ACE tutors (six teachers and six teaching assistants) will get their pupils ready to learn, close learning gaps, and help their social and emotional development.

Further reading: The dos and don’ts of tutoring: For some tutoring tips from the TKAT ACE tutors and programme leads, see Headteacher Update’s previous article – Tutoring: Dos and don’ts (2022).

Every TKAT school runs the programme according to children’s specific needs, choosing the model that works best for them. At Smarden, most ACE tutors, including the head, mentor one pupil each. Every child is seen at least once every week – and often more frequently.

“The tutors work with the children to work out exactly what their needs are,” explained Ms Miller. “I advise them on what has come up in the children’s data and tutors liaise with the class teachers as to what areas to focus on.

“It’s completely personalised to the child and their circumstances. Some children need more pastoral and mental wellbeing support, others need academic tutoring.”

As far as possible, the ACE tutors see their tutees outside lessons – either before or after school, but never during break or lunchtime.

“We would never take children away from their peers at playtime,” said Ms Miller, who is also the school’s SENCO. She sees her own ACE pupil from 8:15am to 8:45am twice a week.

“She reads to me and we’re really enjoying Harry Potter together. I’m also doing a lot of maths tutoring because her recent assessments showed that her weaknesses were in geometry and measurement.”

While Ms Miller’s ACE sessions mainly focus on academic tutoring, others concentrate on aspects such as mental wellbeing, anxiety and sleep issues.

Working with parents/carers

The tutors’ relationships with parents are crucial to the success of the programme so they speak to their tutees’ parents every week, either on the phone or face-to-face.

“It’s important that the parents feel supported and not checked up on,” said Ms Miller. “I have had one parent at school who refused it. She said that she didn’t want her children to be different. But as the year progressed and the family circumstances changed, I tailored my approach to get her on board and now her children have their tutoring during the school day. It’s a very individual approach – to suit the family, to suit the circumstances and to suit the child.”

Meanwhile Kay Bisbrown, who teaches years 3 and 4, mentors a pupil from her own class. She has breakfast meetings with her tutee twice a week, encouraging her to eat something and go over any work she needs extra help with. They have two other ACE sessions during the week and Ms Bisbrown speaks to her tutee’s father for 15 minutes on a Friday afternoon.

“Communication with the parents is very important,” said Ms Bisbrown. “Some parents aren’t always able to remember to do things that other parents do, so we remind them about trips and to read with their children. I’ve encouraged this girl’s dad to take her to drama club and Brownies and I always ask what they’re up to at the weekend.”

Someone to turn to

Sarah Petitpierre is another of Smarden Primary’s ACE tutors. A full-time year 2 teaching assistant and trainee forest school leader, she tutors a year 2 child and his pre-school sibling.

“I do a 45-minute session after school with him on a Wednesday,” she said. “Then I spend about 20 minutes with his sister on a Friday afternoon. Because she is very young it’s more about social interaction and observing what’s happening so I can help if her mum needs support with anything.”

Ms Petitpierre reads with her year 2 pupil and helps him to complete his homework. She discovered that he was keen to join a tennis club outside school so once he has finished his work they go outside and knock a tennis ball around together.

“If he’s ever upset or overwhelmed in school he will literally come and get me wherever I am in school,” she said. “I have regular meetings with his mum, going through his progress and checking in with her about how things are going.

“It’s really good for the children to know they have got a specific adult in school who is supporting them. They know that everyone supports them but there are times when they just want to find their ACE tutor. It’s really good to build the relationship with the parents too, so that you can tailor your support for the child depending on what’s happening at home.”

The ACE tutors get to know the children well and the idea is for them to mentor the same pupils as they progress through the school.

The head believes that being the school’s ACE lead enables her to see any challenges at first-hand. She records every ACE session on a spreadsheet, along with children’s targets and barriers to learning, which enables her to monitor their progress.

Primary schools taking part in the programme have seen a variety of positive outcomes, such as improvements in behaviour and attendance and stronger links between home and school.

Developing staff skills

Just over eight months after launching the ACE programme at Smarden, Ms Miller is particularly impressed by the way it has enhanced tutors’ skills in a number of different areas.

“I’ve seen a huge impact in terms of the upskilling of staff and a much greater awareness of safeguarding and opportunities for referral to early help,” said Ms Miller. “Staff come into education to make a difference and the training opportunities that TKAT has provided have had a notable impact on staff training and morale.”

She has already carried out a pupil voice questionnaire and received positive feedback. One child wrote: “It’s too short. I like all of it.” She now plans to do a parent survey and is keen to hear the views of hard-to-reach parents.

Final thoughts

“Persevering is important with any programme,” said Ms Miller. “Hard-to-reach families are hard-to-reach for a reason. It doesn’t happen overnight, but we are already beginning to see a positive impact in terms of relationships with parents and pupil wellbeing. Over time, we expect to see the gap between Pupil Premium pupils and their more advantaged peers closing academically as well.”

She says that the training and support from TKAT have been crucial in implementing the programme.

“The amount of training we have received, its flexibility and regionalised support in helping me to evidence what we are doing have been key,” she said. “With 12 ACE tutors I can’t very easily get them all together in one place at the same time and the fact that TKAT has recorded training courses so people can access them at different times has been invaluable.”

ACE is funded through schools’ Pupil Premium and costs about £350 a year per child. Following a successful series of pilots in TKAT schools 5,500 pupils and 275 tutors will be involved in the programme by September 2022.

Tips on launching a mentoring programme

  • Ensure that everyone is aware of why you are introducing it.
  • Hold tutoring sessions at a regular time each week so children know when they are seeing their tutors.
  • Scrutinise the data to record progress and check impact.
  • Get pupil feedback by asking pupils to fill in a questionnaire about what they enjoy about the sessions.
  • Make sure that parents feel supported, not checked up on.
  • Support your tutors. Some tutees have significant problems at home and tutors often feel they have a lot on their shoulders.
  • Persevere. Mentoring programmes are not a quick fix and take time to establish.

Further information & resources

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