Time we tuned into tuition

12th November 2010 at 00:00

I marked a piece of work recently which, in my opinion, highlighted the poor standard of literacy within our education system. I counted well over 50 examples of poor sentence structure, clumsy wording, overloaded sentences and generally poor knowledge of how to write clearly, informatively or with a bit of style. Unfortunately, this wasn't the work of a pupil, it was the compendium of learning experiences and outcomes that is Curriculum for Excellence.

The standard of writing in this document, the subject guidelines for the future direction of Scottish education, is just not good enough. If those at the top haven't bothered to master the writing of decent sentences, can we really be expected to require much better from pupils?

Certainly employers, and those in further and higher education, are right to complain that too many school leavers can't write properly. How can it be that, after 11 years of education, so many pupils are leaving school unable to write simple sentences and paragraphs? And, more to the point, what is being done about it?

Scotland's favoured strategies are to try to raise standards by reducing class sizes and to make literacy and numeracy the responsibility of every teacher. Both strategies have questionable chances of making much difference for those who need the most help with their writing, reading and arithmetic.

I would also question if all teachers are sufficiently proficient to help pupils develop these crucial basic skills. Similar initiatives ("every teacher is an English teacher") have not worked in the past, and it is debatable whether they will make much difference in the future.

Our southern neighbour, I reckon, has adopted a more compelling strategy of seeking to raise standards of literacy, and numeracy, by offering one- to-one tuition for those who have fallen behind.

England's One-to-One Tuition Programme encourages schools to concentrate additional help on pupils with the greatest needs. It means those from disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit from the sort of personal tuition which has been shown to provide considerable exam help for pupils with parents willing and able to afford private tuition.

The programme involves setting targets and tailoring teaching to suit the struggling learner's particular needs. Tuition can take place before school starts, during the school day or after school, including during weekends and holidays. Tutors can be the school's own teachers, teachers from other schools or teachers on the supply register.

Making Good Progress, the rigorous two-year pilot programme for One-to- One, found that 86 per cent of the heads involved said the additional tuition not only improved literacy and numeracy but also helped to improve standards of behaviour and increase pupil confidence and motivation. School attendance figures, in some cases, also improved.

During the 2010-11 academic year, up to 600,000 pupils in England will benefit from individualised tuition, which is being allocated in blocks of 10 hours for each pupil.

It is an idea we in Scotland should consider. Many pupils who are not making satisfactory progress, or who don't learn well in formal classroom situations, would benefit. One-to-One can also be used to help the many pupils who, according to Scottish government surveys, seem to lose their way between P5 and S2. And we might be able to spare an hour or two of writing tuition for those who are responsible for scripting our national documents.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.

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