Pupil Premium tutoring: A Champion for Every Child

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

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 more

The idea behind the ACE programme is simple. This pioneering initiative, developed by the Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), a multi-academy trust in the south and east of England, offers one-to-one pastoral tutoring to thousands of Pupil Premium children.

ACE stands for A Champion for Every Child and its aim is to help disadvantaged pupils to make progress academically and in their social and emotional development.

Children taking part in the programme meet individually with an assigned tutor or mentor once or twice a week. The vision is that the tutors will get the children ready to learn, close learning gaps, and improve their outcomes and life chances.

Dr Karen Roberts, TKAT’s CEO, came up with the idea for the programme and the trust began trialling it in seven schools (three secondary, two special and two primary schools) in 2020. During the current academic year all 45 of the trust’s schools are running pilots with 20% of their Pupil Premium children and by September this year, 5,500 pupils and 275 tutors will be involved. Indeed, these tutors have already given their advice on effective tutoring practice in a previous article (2022).

“The ACE programme is not complicated,” explained David Linsell, TKAT’s director of local governance, secondary curriculum and ACE. An experienced headteacher, he was head of Ratton School in Eastbourne for 13 years and joined TKAT in 2014.

“It provides a child with a one-to-one tutor who meets regularly with that child and their family and supports the child to overcome barriers. In contrast to the National Tutoring Programme, which we ran here as well, it is essentially a pastoral programme about getting children ready to learn. Academic tutoring has its place, but ACE is very different.”

Tutors not teachers

The programme is delivered by tutors who have been trained in providing support to potentially vulnerable pupils. Class teachers provide regular oversight and input, but the emphasis is on tutors identifying barriers to attainment, identifying the causes of these barriers, and helping pupils to overcome them.

The tutors’ training includes an hour’s introduction to the programme, 10 hours of specialist training and group supervision sessions six times a year.

During training sessions Mr Linsell encourages tutors to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to assess the needs of each child. “The tutor takes the child through the stages to establish where their needs are. They’ll start by checking the lower levels – the child’s physiological and psychological needs. Children cannot be ready to learn until they are operating above these levels.

“Some children are likely to have their lower levels met but their needs and barriers will classically be around self-actualisation, esteem and goal-setting. They may or may not have aspirations, so it’s a case of working with the children to get them into an aspirational place and thinking about what they have to do to meet their aspirations.”

The tutors

The tutors primarily come from a teaching assistant or pastoral background. Two-thirds have been redeployed from their existing roles within schools, while a third have been recruited specifically for the programme.

ACE sessions vary according to the children’s needs and settings. Most are held during the school day, but some take place after school. “The implementation is very much context driven,” said Mr Linsell.

The ACE team learned a host of useful lessons from the first pilot, much of which took place during the early months of the pandemic. For instance, tutors are now specifically trained to ensure that they do not create a dependency culture.

“One of the reasons that pastoral programmes have failed in the past is because when support is taken away the child fails,” explained Mr Linsell. He describes the ACE programme as more of “a grow coaching type model”, where tutors support, assist and help children to believe in themselves.

ACE is funded through schools’ Pupil Premium budget (the programme costs between a third and a half of a school’s Pupil Premium allocation or £350 a year per Pupil Premium child) but it has already had a significant impact.

Positive impact

An independent evaluation conducted by ImpactEd (2021) reported “significant improvements” in pupils’ levels of “goal orientation, self-efficacy and motivation”. Key success factors included the programme’s personalised, one-to-one nature, the availability of support networks for tutors and the quality of training. Researchers also found that outcomes in maths improved in all participating primary schools and reading improved in all except one.

Primary schools have seen many other positive outcomes too, from improvements in behaviour and attendance to stronger links between home and school.

“The programme’s simplicity and power made us believe in it right from the start but what has been a surprise is the diverse range of unintended positive outcomes,” said Mr Linsell.

One primary school saw a transformation in its relationships with parents. The school has a significant number of hard-to-reach parents who were accustomed to teachers contacting them about their children when problems arose. However, following the launch of ACE, rather than simply ringing parents to relay bad news the school began calling them to congratulate them on children’s progress or to offer help.

“It has been really powerful,” said Mr Linsell. “The programme has completely changed the way pastoral staff approach parents.”

Another school discovered that some financially stretched parents were struggling to buy shoes for their children and were keeping them off school as a result. An ACE tutor hit on the idea of approaching a local shoe company for help and the firm immediately donated 100 pairs of shoes to the school.


TKAT schools use RAG-rating to assess children’s needs and decide how often they should meet with their tutors.

At Front Lawn Primary Academy in Havant, for example, the school’s 230 Pupil Premium children have all been RAG-rated according to their level of need.

The school’s ACE tutors (one full-time and three part-time) see the red children twice a week and phone their families weekly to discuss how they can support them or simply let them know how their children are doing. The amber children see their tutors once a week while the green children are monitored closely by the school’s middle leaders and wellbeing team. The ACE tutors also do regular check-ins with children to ensure they are working well and are settled in class.

“The ACE programme’s impact is massive, particularly for the children who have social, emotional or behavioural needs,” said Sarah Read, the school’s deputy headteacher and ACE tutor lead. “They know they have a champion, someone who will be supporting them and giving them that extra layer of help. The number of potential problems or worries that have been nipped in the bud because they have talked things through with their ACE tutor is incredible.

“The regular communication with families has also been a positive. Some families were reluctant to start with but once they realised that this is totally supportive for their family and their child, their attitudes changed. It has allowed the ACE tutors to support with foodbank referrals, school nurse referrals, or advice with routines and sleep patterns. It has also helped to improve attendance.”

PE specialist Tom Tyers has been an ACE tutor at The Mill Primary Academy in Crawley since September 2021. He mentors four year 3 children, meeting with them for 20 to 30 minutes a week, doing activities with them, chatting about any worries or concerns and checking their work. He also contacts pupils’ parents on a regular basis to ensure that home and school are working well together.

“The programme really benefits those children who might otherwise slip under the radar,” said Mr Tyers. “It picks up and highlights things that teachers don’t necessarily have time in their busy days to look at. The children respond really well to having someone they can go to whenever they need support or feel worried, and it really improves their outlook on school.

“It’s nice that we can make sure that the children who need extra help get it. It’s very rewarding and I feel really proud to be part of it.”

A model programme

Meanwhile, Mr Linsell is convinced that every child and every school in the country would benefit from this kind of programme.

He explained: “It’s a model that could be really useful nationwide – a one-to-one relationship with someone who is showing an interest in you and is championing you and helping you to overcome barriers.

“At the moment we are focusing on Pupil Premium children but it’s something that we’d eventually like to do for all children. We know that it will work in any school, whether it’s a primary school of 100 children or a secondary school of 1,700 children.”

Tips for creating a one-to-one mentoring programme

  • Appoint a senior leader to run the programme.
  • Make sure the whole school understands the programme and is committed to it. Tutors should not feel they are working in isolation.
  • Keep the programme simple and effective.
  • Keep up-to-date with safeguarding.
  • Communicate effectively with existing pastoral support teams within the school.
  • Don’t give tutors too many pupils (most TKAT tutors have up to 20).
  • Make sure that tutors listen to pupils carefully.
  • Encourage tutors to keep in regular contact with parents and build a good relationship with them.
  • Pupils and parents are often used to negative phone calls so ensure you focus on the positives with parents.
  • Encourage tutors to check in with children throughout the week. Regular check-ins help tutors to become more aware of children’s needs and build a better relationship with them.

For more dos and don’ts from the ACE tutors and programme leads, see Headteacher Update’s previous article – Tutoring: Dos and don’ts (2022).

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.

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