What evidence is there that one-to-one works?

In Britain, at least a quarter of young people have been provided some sort of extra tuition at some  point in their education. This could be in the form of extra teaching support in school or from a  private tutor. In London and the south east of England, where there is a little more aspiration for high achievement, the figure is almost double, as it is well over 40%, with much higher figures amongst more affluent people.

As published in the TES (Times Educational Supplement) of 23rd June, 2017, research conducted by Steve Higgins – a professor of education at Durham University –  for the Sutton Trust, shows that students gain an extra five months of learning as a result of one-to-one tutoring. However, the results are mixed and it was also reported that small-group teaching, consisting of two or three students, is more effective than one-to-one teaching. Given the cost benefit, it is worth exploring what works best for a specific child.

In my own experience, I feel that what works best as extra support for young people is small group teaching of about five to six students, supported with additional provision of one-to-one support for a specific student in this group in areas in which a boost of confidence or reassurance is required.

Why the need for one-to-one or small group teaching?

When I taught A-level students, in a group of between six and ten in the classroom, the subtle rivalry and competition that existed among students created stimulation and helped to boost performance. The reality of schools these days is that there is always a mixture of students, with varying ability and level of motivation; as such, it is quite a challenge for the teacher to cater for the needs of an individual child.

Yes, in good schools, students are set according to ability. But, what I’ve discovered in my experience is that the top set consists of a few very bright young people and some who are not as naturally talented, but are well-focused and are willing to work very hard to achieve great things. The slight problem that exists is that there are usually still one or two unruly young people in the top set who  can be irritating and disrupt the class – usually by showing off – and some of the other students feel intimidated to ask for further explanation as they fear that the ‘Mister Know-it-Alls’ will laugh at them. In reality, many young people, in all sets, high, middle or low, actually receive extra tuition as parents pay for private tuition, although not all of them will admit to it publicly!

The middle set is probably the worst in terms of outcome for most students.  This is where you have the bright students, who could have been easily put in the top set, but they are not motivated to apply themselves to achieve the test result that will secure them a place. Many of these young people are only too happy to coast along, as they are very comfortable in that middle set due to there being less pressure in comparison to that in the top set. The sad fact is that there are unruly bright young people in the top and also in the middle set and they are usually very disruptive. Most students in the middle set are usually of about average ability, but they work diligently, completing homework assignments, paying attention in the classroom and revising well for tests. As I mentioned earlier, many in the middle set do receive private tuition from a private tutor outside the school curriculum. The private tuition they get is usually in the form of one-to-one teaching and, in some cases, they attend a  tuition centre.

As for the bottom set, God help your child if they are in one of those. The class number is usually very small – with largely young people who do not have great aptitude in that subject, although  some of them are trying very hard. In this set, there are often some young people who are reasonably bright, but very lazy. They can be disruptive; they do not know much, but they try to create the impression that they know a lot more than they actually do. When it comes to written work, there is very little to show and they do not achieve much in tests. Not many in this set actually receive any form of private tuition organised by the parents. However, it is often the case that there are young people with learning difficulty in this set and the school, due to some sort of government funding, provide for them one-to-one teaching  of one sort or another.

That wonderful teacher has the magic wand to solve all the problems!

In each of the three scenarios that I presented above, when you have a good teacher, they are very capable of managing the situation adequately to get the most out of each young person academically. In reality, there are few of those teachers around and, where they exist, the culture of low expectation that prevails in most schools makes it extremely difficult to get the best out of every child.

This is why parents resort to looking for private tutors,  seeking extra tuition support in core academic subjects. For extra tuition support, I recommend that, as a parent, you should be very particular and ensure that the support that you seek for your child is focused.  This can be small-group teaching at a tuition centre or one-to-one support from a private tutor. For most young people, a mixture of both is the best solution: regular small group teaching in the core subjects or in areas where your child needs to obtain high grades. This can be supported by focused one-to-one teaching for a limited period in a specific subject area in which they may either need their confidence enhanced further or where they may actually be struggling. Whatever you do as a parent, I strongly advise you to constantly measure progress along the way.