One-to-one tutoring: Dos & don’ts

Written by: Headteacher Update | Published:
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Many schools are implementing small group or one-to-one tutoring programmes as part of their Covid recovery work. This article asks tutors at the Kemnal Academies Trust for their dos and don’ts of effective tutoring provision


As the Covid-19 pandemic struck, The Kemnal Academies Trust – which has 45 primary and secondary schools across the South and East of England – initiated A Champion for Every Child (ACE).

The programme provides Pupil Premium children with personalised one-to-one support to help them progress in terms of academic outcomes but most vitally their social and emotional development.

TKAT says that the results have been transformational. So much so, that the programme is being maintained and expanded. During the current academic year all 45 of the trust’s schools are running pilots with 20 per cent of their Pupil Premium children and by September 2022 5,500 pupils and 275 tutors will be involved.

An independent evaluation carried out by ImpactEd (2021) has shown positive outcomes in maths and reading as well as in areas such as motivation and self-efficacy. The evaluation also praised the support and CPD the tutors receive.

The programme is delivered by tutors who have been trained in providing support to potentially vulnerable pupils with regular oversight and input by class teachers.

To draw out some of the lessons learned from the programme, we asked the tutors and programme leads for their dos and don’ts of effective tutoring practice. Here’s what they had to say…


Dos: General principles

First impressions are key: Both with parents/carers and students. A warm welcome, outlining your role and making time for your role is an essential start. Be approachable for both the students and parents.

Parents/carers: Plan how you are going to introduce the intervention to parents/carers. Pupil Premium can be a sensitive topic. Do not make parents feel as though you are singling out their child. Instead, present the tutoring as a way to better support all children.

Build a good relationship with parents/carers – put the time and effort in to email/call home a couple of times a week. Find the best way for the parent to speak to you and when is usually a good time for a call.

Don't be afraid of having difficult conversations. The child is the most important person and sometimes confronting an issue head-on will build a better relationship in the long term, even though it can be challenging and intimidating.

Collaborate: The programme is not being “done” to your students, you are working with them and their parents. Ask them what they want to get out of it – how will you help them? Aim for the early diagnosis of barriers and then build a trusting relationship with them to help them reach their goals and ambitions.

Empowerment: Empower students to make changes themselves. Provide choices for students as this gives them control of their learning. Ask students for feedback.

Get to know your students: I have been most successful with the students I have built great relationships with. Put in the time to get to know your tutees, even little things. These small chats can be the foundation you build from. Use your time with the child to build these relationships and not just set work.

Celebrate: Celebrate success with children.

Everyone is different: Be flexible – every child is different and works so differently. What works for one won't work for others. They will all have different milestones. For one child, just getting to school is a huge deal. Progress is not the same for everyone. Be realistic. Set achievable goals and be honest with students about your role.

Know your stuff: Be knowledgeable around the different types of support there is on offer from the school and what support is available locally/externally. Perhaps make a local resources file. Collate details of every charity, helpline, foodbank and so on in your local area – even visit the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau. To have a folder with these details makes it quicker to signpost families.

Safeguarding: Keep up-to-date with safeguarding training and issues.

A focus on learning: The tutor role is more than just behaviour and attendance – you are helping them flourish with their learning. Look in books, talk about their feedback, set targets and revisit. Be that consistent “champion” for them and learn about their learning. Know your students.

Outside of sessions: Check-in throughout the week with your child so you are a visible person in their week. A lot can happen in seven days so having regular check-ins helps you to become more aware of their needs and build a better relationship. Try to make time to pop-in and see your tutees in lessons.

Other staff: Liaise with key people in the school. Communicate effectively with existing pastoral support teams. Find time to talk to your tutee’s teachers to bounce around ideas.

Enjoy yourselves: Love what you do, because it has the potential to have such a huge impact on these students’ lives. We are the lucky ones to be a part of these programmes.

Your wellbeing: Leave your work at school – don’t take any issues home with you.


Dos: During your tutoring sessions

  • Keep your appointments – make a regular time to see your tutee and stick to it.
  • Create a quiet safe environment to ensure your meetings are not disturbed. Create a nice and welcoming environment.
  • Include reading as part of sessions.
  • Have nice conversations with the students – not just about school or wellbeing. Get to know their interests and hobbies too.
  • Make sure you listen to the student, let them talk first without any prompts.
  • Develop a contact log for each child and refer to this before every meeting. Enter even small things like favourite games or places they were due to visit. It helps build the relationship with the child if you can ask them about these at the next meeting.


Dos: Other practical tips

  • Be present first thing in the morning, maybe on the gate. It is a good way to spot any children that may have had a bad start to the day.
  • RAG-rate your Pupil Premium children and review this regularly.
  • Use school progress and attendance data to support mentoring
  • Have a bank of questions to help you during your sessions.
  • Make sure you document what you have actioned.
  • Have a document to store any comments and feedback staff give you. Set up a recording system that is not time-consuming.
  • Make a shared drive with other tutors in school or senior leaders can access up-to-date files for your students.
  • Arrange a parent/carer meeting after a few weeks when you have some work to show. Phone home with positive comments as often as possible


Don’t: General principles

  • Do not “hard sell” the intervention - parents will not want to work with you. Do not make parents feel they are being judged on socio-economic status or parenting skills. Do not use language such as “disadvantaged”, “Pupil Premium”, “impoverished” – or try to impress them with terms such as “cultural capital”!
  • Do not have tricky conversations with parents on the playground when other adults are around. Consider where, when and how best to communicate with parents.
  • Do not judge the children or their families. Do not criticise the children or their adults. Do not discuss what the children have said.
  • Do not overpromise and underdeliver, change your plans or cancel meetings. Do not regularly move sessions to suit your own timetable. Children need stability. Routine is key.
  • Do not try to “rescue” the student – you are there to support and empower them.
  • Do not stay in your office all the time – get out there and see the pupils.
  • Do not expect success straight away.
  • Do not undermine the work of other colleagues.
  • Do not worry that you are not doing enough – you are working the best that you can for the students, and this is valued. Do not expect to be able to do it all. Do not try and solve everything yourself – liaise with teachers and teaching assistants and don't take on the teachers’ responsibilities as well as your own.
  • Do not take on too much or get too involved. Do not feel that you must be always available.
  • Do not give up. You may feel that you are not making a difference for some students, perhaps because they won't engage. But every student is different. Aim for small steps and key successes. The first milestone for you might be the student simply saying “hello” in the corridor – that is one relationship they didn't have to draw upon previously and they will be mindful of that.
  • Do not expect everything to go to plan! It is a new project and we are learning as tutors to deliver it in the most effective way which means learning by trial and error. Do not get overwhelmed.
  • Do not make a detailed timetable where every minute is accounted for. I schedule by day rather than hour, which leaves more flexability.


Don’t: During your sessions

  • Do not rush to get onto a resource or school work – if you spend the whole session having a “catch up” then that is fine and is sometimes more important to the student.
  • Do not talk over the pupil. Do not talk too much yourself.
  • Do not make promises that you cannot follow through on.
  • Do not rush your meetings with the students (or their parents for that matter).
  • Do not ask prying questions or make the student (or parents) feel like they must tell you something.
  • Do not promise the student (or parents) that you will keep what they're telling you a secret.
  • Do not start a session without intent/purpose.
  • Do not meet without taking notes of the session.


Advice for those leading tutoring programmes

Finally, we asked the leaders of the A Champion for Every Child (ACE) programme for their dos and don’ts when it comes to supporting tutors and running the programme.

  • Do prioritise good communication.
  • Do have termly meetings with your tutors.
  • Do have a robust tracking sheet so you can monitor tutoring meetings.
  • Do make time to meet with tutors.
  • Do be clear with your guidance.
  • Do agree consistent formats for recording the tutoring sessions.
  • Do be realistic when it comes to timetabling.
  • Do organise ACE trips and engage the whole school in the ACE programme.
  • Do buddy' new tutors with experienced tutors.
  • Do role play initial phone calls for new tutors
  • Do make regular mentions, thanks, highlights of the tutoring programme at leadership/staff briefings.
  • Do not give tutors too many pupils.
  • Do not expect tutors to know how to reach hard-to-reach parents.
  • Do not expect tutors to “get on” without support.
  • Do not expect too much or micro-manage your tutors.


Find out more

The lessons learned from the TKAT ACE programme will be presented during a workshop at the 14th National Pupil Premium Conference, which is due to take place in Birmingham on March 18.

At the event, David Linsell, director of TKAT ACE, Jo McKeown, headteacher at Chichester High School, and Kate Couldwell, headteacher at Front Lawn Primary Academy, will discuss the project and why it has been successful.

The session is entitled A Champion for Every Child: Pastoral tutoring to support the motivation, self-efficacy, and progress of Pupil Premium students, and is one of 18 sessions taking place at the event.

  • This article has been compiled with contributions from the ACE tutors and leads at The Kemnal Academies Trust. With thanks to them and to David Linsell, director of the TKAT ACE programme.


Further information & resources

  • ImpactEd: The Kemnal Academies Trust: ACE evaluation summary 2020-21, September 2021: https://bit.ly/3qaxjUh
  • Pupil Premium National Conference: Run by SecEd and Headteacher Update, this event takes place on Friday, March 18. For details, visit www.pupilpremiumconference.com


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