One-to-one trial hits buffers

Major setbacks for pilot schemes in personalised learning and single-level tests

Warwick Mansell

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Plans to provide hundreds of thousands of pupils with one-to-one tuition and to introduce a new style of national tests have both run into trouble, independent evaluations have found.

The two schemes are pillars of the Government's bid to provide more personalised learning in England's schools.

Proposals to give thousands of pupils one-to-one tuition have been hit by a drastic shortage of tutors. Trials of the tutoring scheme have seen it help only a third of the pupils that ministers had promised would get extra support.

The Government has also suffered a major blow to its trials of the new single-level tests, planned as a possible replacement for key stage 2 Sats from next year. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that was commissioned by the Government and released just before Christmas, found the tests had shown poor pass rates and a failure to provide reliable results. One had a pass rate of just 4 per cent.

The individual tuition plan and the single-level tests are key elements of a two-year pilot in more than 400 schools in 10 local authorities, designed to test ways to help pupils make faster progress.

Single-level tests in reading, writing and maths assess a single national curriculum level. They are taken by a pupil when their teacher decides they are ready to pass it.

In the first round of the trials, in December 2007, pass rates were only 19 per cent on average among KS3 pupils and 65 per cent among KS2 pupils, the report revealed.

For the level 6 reading test, the pass rate was just 4 per cent. Only 14 per cent of those entered for the level 5 maths exam passed it.

The second round of tests, last June, were set at levels 3-8. But no results were released for levels 6-8. It is understood the test designers were unable to set a reliable pass mark.

Results for levels 3-5 show that the KS2 pupils taking them had an average pass rate of 85 per cent for maths, 89 per cent for writing and 89 per cent for reading.

The third round of piloting took place for primary pupils last month, and the final one is due next June. The tests were scrapped for KS3 pupils in October.

Assessment experts who have compiled as yet unpublished reports for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are believed to have serious concerns about the reliability of all the single-level tests.

The PwC report also revealed the Government had failed to meet its 20,000- pupil target for pupils receiving one-to-one tuition. Only 6,554 children taking part in the single-level test pilots received the support. Ministers have now been forced to raise tutors' pay rates and change the scheme to allow tuition to take place during the school day as well as after school.

Gordon Brown told last year's Labour conference that every pupil falling behind in the three Rs would have the right to personal catch-up tuition. Ministers are pledging that 300,000 pupils will benefit by 2011.

The report found many pupils liked taking the single-level tests, most teachers liked the idea of them, and there was little evidence of teaching to the test. Most teachers also backed assessment for learning, another element of the trial.

What PwC found

  • Most pilot schools say assessment for learning will help pupil progress.
  • Single-level tests were affected by low pass rates in the first round, and failure to release some results for the second.
  • Most teachers believe single-level tests will motivate pupils.
  • Most local authority areas are struggling to recruit tutors.
  • Most heads say individual tuition has accelerated pupil progress.

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    Warwick Mansell

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