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What keeps me awake at night: the paring down of individual support is leaving some students behind

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Having been a teacher since 1976, I’ve seen a few initiatives come and – in most cases – go. Some of them were really quite useful, and it was a shame to watch a new government dismantle something purely for reasons of political or economic policy. Some of them were the result of large amounts of professional effort by teachers, and to see the fruits of one’s labours swept away was galling. Many of them have disappeared as quickly as they appeared, leaving one wondering whether a good idea had been lost forever for no particular reason.

However, I am genuinely sleepless over one of the most recent examples.

Around 2009, a nationally funded initiative enabling schools to give targeted individual tutoring in a core subject over the course of a school term was introduced. I quickly enrolled for the One-to-One programme, and having spent years bemoaning the paring down of individual support in schools, and knowing the value of good support staff, I did not let myself be put off by the training, which was quite clearly being delivered by people who had been briefed only the previous day on how to deliver their session.

Eighteen months later, a local comprehensive contacted me with a view to joining their tutoring team. I jumped at the chance, and for almost four years had no regrets. I worked individually with young people, focusing on carefully chosen areas of skill or understanding – anything from basic punctuation to appreciating poetry – for 10 one-hour sessions in a term.

The value was immense, confirmed by parent, staff and student feedback. Of about 100 students over those four years, I don’t think more than two failed to make noticeable progress. Best of all, not only did their academic performance improve measurably but when I encountered those I had tutored in the school corridor or the street, their personal bearing had also changed markedly for the better. Uncertain children now seemed like confident adults.

Then finances and demographics caught up with the school and the One-to-One scheme stopped or became a small-group activity.

It was clear to me and the other tutors that working with these students and forming a unique bond of trust was the key ingredient, and with that lost we would just be “teachers” again, without the magical powers bestowed on us by One-to-One.

So I stopped – as did others – and now I worry that further generations of parents will not be able to look back on a crucial term in their children’s school career when something “clicked” and they made meaningful progress.

The writer is a teacher is Essex

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