I’ve been waiting for a while for the publication of the EEF report on the Tutor Trust’s secondary programme. For a couple of months I’ve been clicking on the appropriate link, only to be confronted with the phrase ‘due spring 2015’ even though we’re well into summer.
Why was I waiting for this? Because there is a distinct lack of studies that look at tuition for secondary schools in the UK. Much of the literature looks at programmes aimed at younger students, mostly literacy and numeracy focussed. This was an evaluation of secondary tuition in the English system, something I’m really interested in.
Now the evaluation of the Tutor Trust secondary programme is out and it tells us… not very much.
No control group = no answers
The report says that students on the programme performed slightly better at maths and slightly worse at English, but points out that due the difficulty in creating a proper control group any conclusions should be treated as having ‘very low security’.
The qualitative elements of the study showed that school staff valued the programme. However, there appeared to be a real variety of kinds of tutoring here, with school defining which students benefited and how large tuition groups were. The report even says ‘ In at least one school, tutors had been deployed in a wider range of roles, including to support marking and assessment’ rather than working directly with students.
So while school staff might be positive about the tutors, there appeared to be no defined programme as such. From my point of view there is nothing in here to give us any guidance one way or another on deciding if tuition works and nothing on what specifically works (though this isn’t the first time I’ve seen something to suggest maths tuition is more effective than English tuition).
This leaves me wondering about my lack of scientific knowledge. I get that it is vital to publish results that don’t show what you’d prefer them to, but is it worthwhile to continue for three years with an evaluation that can’t answer the questions you want it to? Did the problems with finding an appropriate control group only occur after 3 years of work?
I don’t know the answers to those questions and don’t mean to imply criticism of those who conducted this evaluation. But I do know this doesn’t help answer the question ‘does tutoring work?’.