‘If I can help children feel confident, that’s brilliant’: how one tutoring company’s approach to education is setting it apart | Teacher-led tutoring

“It’s been a terrible 12 months, particularly for those children who are at schools that have not had constant online learning,” year 5 teacher Laura Charleton says, referencing the months of education students have lost due to the Covid-19 disruption. “I love my job. If I can help children catch up and feel confident in their learning, that’s brilliant.”

Launched by Cognita, an independent schools group, the service sets a gold standard in an industry that has seen an explosion in recent years as parents increasingly turn to private tutors to supplement their children’s education.

Unlike many other tutoring companies, Cognita Tutoring only employs qualified teachers. Cognita Tutoring’s provision is designed to complement what happens in the classroom. Research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) indicates that short, regular tutoring sessions over a set period of time can be highly effective if taken alongside normal teaching, with one-to-one tuition delivering approximately five additional months’ progress in comparison with tuition in small groups, which advances students by a further four months. Evidence from the research also underpins Cognita’s belief that qualified teachers make the best tutors, with programmes led by qualified teachers achieving nearly twice the success rate compared with programmes led by less experienced tutors. Former EEF CEO and Cognita Tutoring advisory board member Sir Kevan Collins says: ”It is particularly gratifying to see the best possible evidence being used to support the development of Cognita Tutoring.”

Concerns over the impact of learning disruption have prompted dozens of teachers across the UK to sign up as tutors in an attempt to bridge the gap in learning. For many, the personalised environment of tutoring allows for targeted intervention and deeper learning skills to be embedded, while being digital first gives parents access to experts from across the country – not just the local catchment area. Cognita was quick to switch to online learning during lockdown and has applied the lessons from this time to develop a new tutoring product. This includes the use of AI technology from Century, which combines the latest in neuroscience with a highly personalised learning system that can define strengths and weaknesses in the child’s knowledge and tailor their learning accordingly. Complementing online tutoring sessions, Century’s micro lessons, known as “nuggets”, provide a customised learning path for students between sessions to work on topics they’re struggling with.

Girl holding digital tablet talking with remote teacher tutor on social distance video conference call
Tutors build relationships with children, for example by talking about their week before moving on to the lesson. Photograph: insta_photos/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Working as a tutor in this way is deeply satisfying. “I really like tutoring – you can make an impact very quickly,” says Anne Hazell, a tutor who has taught at Colchester high school (a Cognita school) in Essex for the past five years.

For the first two weeks, she asks her students to bring two items they can talk about to lessons, as a way to build rapport and trust. Hazell also takes part. Particular emphasis is placed on supporting every aspect of a child’s development, not just their academic progress. For instance, this has meant playing interactive games and getting to know a child’s interests so lessons can be tailored accordingly.

“We talk about our week before we focus on maths,” she says. “I use the Century AI tech, which highlights my students’ strengths and weaknesses, so I can focus on gaps in the lesson and set homework using the tech.

“I’m also doing research into metacognition at University College London (UCL). This highlights how students become more independent when they understand what they need to do and have ownership of their learning. It’s about delving deep into what they are thinking, getting students to understand why they are learning, and understand there is an end goal. It’s also important to let them know that if they’re stuck there is always a way forward.”

Meanwhile, regular feedback is given to all parents amid evidence that shows the more involved parents are the better the child’s progress. Some parents sit in for the whole session, while others drop in at the start or the end. “I tend to leave a video for my student, with everything we went through in the lesson, so she can refer to it later if she needs to – which helps her feel in control,” says Hazell. “She can sit down and talk about what she’s doing and it enables parents and students to collaborate.”

Charleton also believes communication with parents is paramount. She has spent eight years teaching at Huddersfield grammar school, also part of the Cognita group, and is used to chatting to parents at the school gates. “As teachers, we strive to have a rapport with parents. Their support is critical, but at the same time we have to make it clear that the child is learning independently.”

She adds she was attracted to Cognita Tutoring due to the fact that the group concentrates on enrichment, as well as academic attainment. “Term-time is so busy, tutoring wasn’t a decision I took easily – but I love the focus on the whole child.”

For tutor Karen Shardlow, an English teacher for 10 years, the chance to see children progress and master concepts lay behind her decision to offer her skills to the service. “I’ve done lots of one-to-one tutoring [prior to Cognita Tutoring] – from GCSE boosters to teaching English as a foreign language – all through word of mouth,” she says. “It is critical to get children to develop confidence, and I spend time getting to know a child’s family and pets before we start a lesson and then I’ll introduce a concept and we then explore it, use it, write it, and question it.”

All are thrilled to be involved in the new service. “Tutoring is so important at the moment,” says Charleton. “I do believe every child has the right to a good education … I feel blessed to be part of the Cognita route, which puts my skills as a qualified teacher right at the heart of the offer.”

Learn more about Cognita Tutoring’s offering here

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