The Advantages Of Tutoring For Disadvantaged Children

So many attempts have been tried to close the achievement gap. Most of them do not seem sustainable or scalable and the gap has widened with Lockdown. Susannah Hardymann believes that tutoring can be a big part of any viable catch-up solution.

Officially, 28% of the UK’s school pupil cohort are classified as ‘disadvantaged’, leaving them on average 18 months behind their non-disadvantaged peers by the end of secondary school – and the closure of schools during the COVID pandemic is projected to have widened the gap by as much as 75%, equating to a lag of 2.5 years1.

Senior Leaders within schools are doing all they can to mitigate the immediate impact of the current crisis on their pupils – and disadvantaged children are going to need more support than ever before to catch up in the months to come2.

Deciding how best to use Pupil Premium funding – and the £350m government catch-up fund earmarked for those from disadvantaged or vulnerable communities – to maximise pupil outcomes is a key priority.

Tutoring – often viewed as the preserve of more affluent families who contribute to the £2bn annual income generated by the private tutoring industry – is a well-known, effective intervention that can play a big role in raising attainment and have a positive effect on many other areas of pupils’ development.

Schools can help to level the playing field by using available funding to enable disadvantaged pupils to access tutoring – the Pupil Premium funding a school receives for one child per year can cover the cost of a term of tutoring delivered by Action Tutoring for up to 20 pupils.

Boosting academic progress

Good standards in English and maths in particular are crucial to progressing well in further education, employment or training, yet currently every year 75,000 disadvantaged children leave school without basic qualifications in English and maths.

The academic attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers opens before they start school and widens throughout their education. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are not less academically able, but lack of access to tools and resources means currently only 41% of this group pass English and maths GCSEs, compared to 69% of all other pupils.

Evidence shows that an intense programme of one-to-one or small-group tuition could add as much as five months’ progress to a young person’s schooling, according to The Education Endowment Foundation3 – which could mean the difference between reaching national standards, or not, for many pupils.

Often, simply helping pupils to grasp basic concepts is the key that unlocks their potential, as well as improving their confidence. For example, Adam, a pupil from London, attended 23 English sessions with Action Tutoring leading up to his exams. When he began he was working at a Grade 3 but incredibly managed to achieve a Grade 6 in his GCSEs.

He said, “I’m so pleased. Action Tutoring really boosted my confidence and helped me remember all the important things for my exams. It helped me with punctuation and grammar – it sounds like basic things but it’s really valuable.” His results mean he can stay on at sixth form to study performing arts, music and DT.

Developing confidence and perseverance

Small-group tuition provides a safe space for pupils with low confidence to speak up and learn from their mistakes – fundamentally important to effective learning.

Farzana, a Year 11 pupil at the Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool, received maths tutoring from September up until her GCSEs, “I absolutely hated maths at the beginning, I despised it. I used to dread maths lessons. Now, I feel more confident and that is all down to my tutor – I love my sessions with her because I know she’s there to help and we have loads of fun whilst learning. I think the fun element of it is what has made me learn.

“I used to worry when I would see a question and if I didn’t understand it straight away I would just turn the page and not attempt it, but now I realise that if I look at it, read it again and break it down, it’s much simpler than it looks. I feel I can approach questions that I never used to want to try. If I don’t understand a question, my tutor will explain it 100 times in loads of different ways until I understand it. I want to be a doctor in the future. I’m choosing chemistry, biology and sociology as A Levels, but my maths will play a key role in my future learning and I’m so thankful for the help.” Across the year Farzana attended 18 maths sessions and took her GCSEs in summer 2019. She achieved a Grade 4, climbing three Grades in her time with Action Tutoring.

Building a mindset of success

The adage ‘success begets success’ is particularly true in a school setting. Tutoring allows disadvantaged pupils to experience success and receive personalised, specific praise which they may not be accustomed to experiencing in other areas of their lives. This can transform a pupil’s mindset and attitude to learning and be a turning point in their lives.

Codie, for example, was a Year 6 pupil at Hareclive E-ACT Primary Academy in Bristol during the previous academic year. He attended 14 tutoring sessions, over the course of two terms, to help prepare him for his SATs and moving onto secondary school. “Before I started tutoring I didn’t enjoy English very much but I do now, I like writing very much. I also enjoy maths because I now know how to do lots more things and I can ask people for help when I get stuck.

“I feel much more confident in tests too because I’ve seen my marks improve a lot. I like my tutor because she helps us and she’s funny too. She makes the subject fun.

“When I’m older I’d like to become a professional footballer and my secondary school is working with Bristol City Academy, part of Bristol City Football Club which trains and develops local talent. I think tutoring will help me to pass my GCSEs and do well, which will mean I’ll get a good job.”

Tailored support

Small group tutoring enables tutors to cater to pupils’ individual learning styles, which in turn brings out the best in them. In a class of 30 pupils, tailoring support for every single pupil is a tall order – and it can be especially challenging to captivate and motivate hard-to-reach pupils.

One of our volunteer tutors in Newcastle, Hope Parsons-Munn, was able to engage the two pupils in her English session by picking up on their interests, “In one session we were reading an extract from Cressida Cowell’s How to Train your Dragon. Both of my pupils were struggling to answer certain questions, so as they had both watched the film, “I asked them to think about how the behaviour of one of the dragons was conveyed in the film. This helped them to understand what to look for in the text. I find that using mixed media sources and tapping into kids’ interests really helps to engage them.”

In the academic year 2019-20, Action Tutoring had 1,151 volunteer tutors from a wide range of backgrounds – from university and retired individuals to those in full-time or part-time employment. These volunteers supported over 2,500 disadvantaged pupils and worked in partnership with 84 primary and secondary state schools in England. 87% of pupils we worked with in that year were eligible for the government’s Pupil Premium funding. Upon joining the programme, pupils were all identified by their school as at risk of missing out on national standards in English or maths at the end of primary or secondary school.

Action Tutoring works in partnership with schools across the UK to deliver its mission: to ensure that no child’s life chances are limited by their socio-economic background. Senior Leaders looking for solutions to help level the playing field and open doors for disadvantaged pupils can find out more at

At a glance – positive impact of tutoring:

  • Of the primary school pupils Action Tutoring supported in 2018-19, 74% met expected standards in reading and 81% met expected standard in maths (nationally 62% and 67% of young people from disadvantaged pupils achieved this). All pupils supported by Action Tutoring were considered at risk of not meeting expected standard when they began the tutoring programme.
  • Of the secondary school pupils Action Tutoring supported in 2018-19, who attended 10 or more sessions, 61% achieved a Grade 4 or above in English and 58% reached this in maths (compared to 54% and 53% nationally for disadvantaged pupils). All pupils supported by Action Tutoring were considered at risk of not achieving a grade 4 when they began the tutoring programme.

Full impact report available here

Susannah Hardyman is the founder and CEO of Action Tutoring. Susannah was inspired to start Action Tutoring following experiences working in the charity sector and as a private tutor, recognising the potential to make the benefits of tutoring available to those that might not otherwise be able to afford it, using volunteers. Today, Action Tutoring works in 8 cities supporting approximately 3,000 pupils a year.


  1. According to a recent report from NWEA, preliminary ‘COVID slide’ estimates suggest all students will return in autumn 2020 with roughly 30% of learning loss in reading relative to a typical school year, rising to a potential learning loss of up to a full year for some students. Disadvantaged students were already lagging behind their peers by 18 months by the end of secondary school, and with projections of the attainment gap widening by up to 75% – as highlighted by Vicky Stewart, deputy director of the Department for Education’s pupil premium and school food division – this lag could rise to 31.5 months – more than two and half years. These combined factors are expected to have a devastating impact on academic and life outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

Register for free

No Credit Card required

  • Register for free
  • Access to 3 free articles
  • Free TeachingTimes Report every month