Online tuition aids poorer pupils with learning, but technology remains barrier

Online tuition helped disadvantaged children to learn amid Covid-19 disruption – but too many pupils were still unable to access support due to a lack of equipment or internet connections, a report says.

The majority of students said they felt more confident about their work as a result of the virtual tutoring in the summer and autumn terms, a pilot from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests.

But nearly half (48%) of schools reported that a lack of equipment made it difficult for some learners to take part in online tuition last year, while the same proportion said a lack of parental support was a challenge.

Professor Becky Francis, chief executive of the EEF, has called for barriers to online tuition – such as limited access to technology – to be removed.

The pilot, which was carried out between June and October by four organisations with experience of tutoring children from disadvantaged backgrounds, reached 1,425 pupils in 65 schools across England.

The evaluation, by National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), suggests that the majority (87%) of learners who responded to a feedback survey said they would like to carry on with their tutoring if they had the opportunity – and 76% said they enjoyed learning more than they did before.

The findings come after Boris Johnson announced that schools will receive £300 million of new money for catch-up tutoring as he confirmed schools in England will remain closed until at least March 8.

Prof Francis said the report should give the public confidence that “online tuition is an effective tool to support students” amid partial school closures.

She said: “It is encouraging to see that not only is it possible to reach high numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but that they also enjoy the opportunity to continue their learning.”

Prof Francis added: “Given the wealth of evidence behind high-quality tuition as a way to support pupils who have fallen behind, tutoring is likely to play a significant part in the Government’s education recovery plan.

“Today’s findings give policymakers – including Sir Kevan – important insights into the role online tuition could play in supporting pupils in the coming months and years.

“The pilot gives us confidence that online tutoring can support disadvantaged pupils, but highlights some barriers – like access to technology and attendance – that we must give extra attention to removing if we’re to make sure that no child is left behind as a result of the pandemic.”

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We hope that this study is the start rather than the end of the research that will need to be done if we are to fully understand the potential and the limitations of different kinds of remote learning activity.

“The biggest limitation, as the report identifies, is still the lack of access to internet connections and devices. Nearly a year on from the first lockdown, many thousands of pupils are still without a device.”

The latest figures show that 424,428 devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges across England since the lockdown began on January 4.

A total of 986,849 laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched to support pupils to access remote education since the start of the scheme.

Mr Brook added: “If schools are to play their part in healing the scars left by Covid-19, be that educational, developmental or emotional, they and other key support services must be given the additional support, funding and resources they need.”

In June last year, Boris Johnson announced a £1 billion plan to help pupils in England make up lost learning time following months of school closures.

As part of the plan, the Prime Minister said £350 million would be spent on the National Tutoring Programme over the 2020-21 academic year to help the most disadvantaged pupils.

The EEF pilot was carried out following months of school and college closures after the first national lockdown – and it was launched before the Government’s National Tutoring Programme.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “At the time this study took place online study was still a novelty for many and a similar study now, after pupils have suffered almost a year of disruption and an inevitable loss in learning, might return rather different findings.

“The report demonstrates that online tutoring has a role to play in delivering effective and engaging learning in the future, but our view remains that education needs to primarily be delivered face-to-face as and when this becomes possible.”

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