Finding common ground important for effective tutoring

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Finding out what pupils and tutors have in common can help to boost attendance at one-to-one or small group tutoring sessions, a research review has found.

The results are from one of a number of “nimble randomised controlled trials” that were run with Tuition Partners operating under the government’s National Tutoring Programme (NTP) in 2021/21.

The intervention asked tutors and pupils to take short online surveys to identify what they have in common. Pupils and tutors answered quick-fire questions about their personal interests, hobbies, and values.

For example, one question asked participants to choose from a list of major sporting events which one they would most like to attend. Another asked whether laughter, loyalty or listening is most important for a friendship.

Tutors and pupils received instant feedback on their similarities and, crucially, tutors received reminders of their similarities with their pupils for the next five weeks, including suggested conversation prompts.

Tutors were also encouraged to use teaching strategies that incorporated their pupils’ interests to help to build a positive relationship.

The evaluation, which has been carried out by the Behavioural Insights Team, found that pupils in the intervention had higher attendance rates than a control group (66% compared to 62%).

The trials also tested two further interventions but found no positive or negative impact. These were:

  • Engagement-boosting reminders: Behaviorally informed reminder messages were sent directly to pupils via email.
  • Prioritising tutoring relationships: Tutors completed a short web-based activity focused on relationship-building strategies that could be used with pupils. Tutors also received reminders about the personal strategy they developed in the activity.

The finding echoes the advice given by tutors on the ACE programme in a recent article for Headteacher Update (2022). ACE stands for A Champion for Every Child and 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.

Among their top tips, tutors on the programme said that getting to know your students was key: “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.”

Other advice included collaboration with students to help build trust: “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.”

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the EEF, said: “To make sure that the NTP delivers on its aims, it is essential that we continue to learn about how to effectively engage pupils

“These important findings add to our understanding of how we can secure pupils’ ongoing participation in the programme, and in turn, maximise its impact on learning in the wake of the pandemic.”

David Halpern, CEO of the Behavioural Insights Team, added: “These are an important series of trials with practical and policy implications. First, they demonstrate the importance of a tutor finding common areas of interest with the student they are teaching, and identify a simple, authentic and unobtrusive way of doing this. It’s a technique intuitively used by many effective tutors, but the trial shows how it can be used more widely.

“Second, these rapid BIT-EEF trials show how ‘marginal gains’ can be layered on top of existing interventions. This enables programmes to be enhanced, rapidly but systematically identifying which variations work more effectively, and which work no better than usual.”


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