Free tuition for promising state school pupils trialled

6th May 2011 at 01:00
Can private coaching up grades of disadvantaged children, too?

A scheme that is offering free private tuition to London state school pupils this term could be expanded nationally with new Government funding, The TES has learned.

The Sutton Trust pilot project has just started in 10 secondaries serving disadvantaged areas of the capital.

It aims to test whether personal tuition, bought by increasing numbers of wealthier families, can improve the GCSE results of less privileged pupils.

Now Sir Peter Lampl, chairman and founder of the trust, has identified the scheme as a candidate for expansion through the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), a #163;125 million pot of Government money his charity is overseeing.

"We have got a bunch of kids doing GCSE maths doing private tuition and a bunch of kids who aren't," he said. "The two groups are identical. We are going to see how effective private tuition really is."

Commenting on the potential for its expansion, Sutton Trust policy director James Turner said: "If (the existing scheme) proves successful it ill be a case of proving the point on a larger scale and looking at different ways of delivering the tuition.

"The purpose will be to take this to the next level and hopefully we can make schools all over the country see this as something they can tap into and use with pupil premium funds."

Sir Peter said he thought one-on-four tuition might work as well as one-on-one sessions and that he found the idea of combining them with computer-based tutoring "very, very interesting". The initial pilot is using tutors from a London agency.

He is "thrilled" at the opportunities offered by the EEF which the Sutton Trust will run with the Impetus Trust, having beaten off competition from at least 14 other charities.

"We can try a lot of things that the Government might not be able to try," he told The TES.

"We can fail, we can do projects that may not work, it is politically easier for us. We can be bolder and more adventurous."

The fund is inspired by President Obama's Race to the Top programme which uses a competition for grants to encourage school reform. The EFF will hand out funds to "innovative and bold" proposals from schools, teachers, local authorities and charities, which Sir Peter hopes can then lever wider reform.

Aimed at boosting the achievement of all disadvantaged pupils in underperforming schools, the fund will mean a broader focus than the work with more able pupils the Sutton Trust is best known for.

"Kids who are just trying to get enough qualifications to get a job, that's what this fund is about," Sir Peter said.

"We have got the opportunity to really influence government spending in this area. We have got enough money to try lots of things."

See next week's TES for an interview with Sir Peter Lampl

SUTTON TRUST

The have-nots

The Sutton Trust is running its pilot because of concerns that the trend towards private tuition is widening "the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots". It focuses on pupils with parents who cannot afford private tuition, who have potential to achieve an A* GCSE in maths but are on course to miss out.

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