Catch-up tutoring garners strong results

An online tutoring pilot program developed by children’s education charity, The Smith Family, has achieved strong results for school students struggling with literacy and numeracy.

The Catch-Up Learning program offered students one-on-one online tutoring with a trained teacher, up to three times a week over six months.

The tutoring occurred in the students’ homes.

Concerns that children experiencing disadvantage risked falling behind their more advantaged peers because of remote learning, prompted the development of the program.

Anne Hampshire, Head of Research and Advocacy at The Smith Family, said that while COVID-19 and remote learning were challenging for many students and families, there was a risk that the pre-COVID achievement gap between students in need and their more advantaged peers, will worsen.

“For many families experiencing disadvantage, remote schooling exacerbates already challenging situations.

“A lack of digital technology, adequate space to do schoolwork, or parents lacking the confidence and skills to support home learning, are all likely to contribute to students falling behind.

“Our aim with the Catch-Up Learning program has been to strengthen the skills of students struggling in literacy and numeracy by supporting them to participate in high quality, online tutoring in their own home.

“The pilot has shown this can make an important contribution to improving their skills in these critical areas,” Hampshire said.

Around 100 students on The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program participated in Catch-Up Learning.

Students were from Years Four, Five, Seven and Eight and their 2019 school reports showed they were struggling with literacy and numeracy.

By the end of the program, seven in 10 students had made more progress than would be expected on average, by students over a typical six months of schooling.

Impressively, six in 10 attained literacy levels equivalent to, or stronger, than their year-level peers.

Results for numeracy were a little more modest, partly reflecting that at the beginning of the program students were on average three years behind their expected year level.

Despite this, at the end of the program, six in 10 students had improved their numeracy to at least the level of progress expected, with 46 per cent making higher-than-expected progress.

“The Catch-Up Learning program was a small pilot, but there is very promising evidence of its capacity to engage students and support greater than expected gains in literacy and numeracy for those who are struggling in these areas.

“The fact that students were attending the program at least twice a week, including over the summer holidays, is phenomenal and testament to their and their families’ commitment to learning.

“To see the program contributing to students’ increased love of learning and confidence is so significant, given the contributions these make to academic achievement,” Hampshire said.

Along with the in-home component, the one-on-one support was a key contributor to these strong results, allowing tutors to tailor lessons to match students’ needs and learning styles.

The families’ long-term, trusting relationships with The Smith Family also enabled the speedy recruitment of students who needed support, and the provision of assistance to families to enable their participation.

“Having the tutoring take place in the home meant parents could actively support their child’s participation, celebrate the progress they were making, reinforce the value of learning, and better understand their child’s learning needs.

“It also meant parents could pick up tips and strategies from tutors on supporting their child’s learning,” Hampshire said.

The Catching-Up Learning pilot was funded by the Origin Energy Foundation and The Smith Family partnered with ClassCover, who recruited the teachers and provided pedagogical support.

Head of the Origin Energy Foundation, Sean Barrett, said even before the pandemic disruption, there were achievement gaps suffered by disadvantaged students which are unfair, costly, and widening.

“These results, and adoption of tutoring by Victoria and NSW, validates the work of the Grattan Institute which first suggested adoption of tutoring for catch-up learning.

“Australia should now seize the opportunity to build on this work and help disadvantaged students with tutoring in the longer term,” Barrett said.

The Smith Family will use the evaluation finding to refine the Catch-Up Learning program and move to a second stage pilot involving more students.

“We are grateful to the students and families who worked so hard through the Catch-Up Learning program and to ClassCover and the Origin Energy Foundation for partnering with us to deliver this crucial pilot for students in need.

“This program shows that with the right support, students who are struggling can make great progress in their learning,” Hampshire said.

On the Central Coast, The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program supports 1,200 students from 24 schools.

Media Release, August 10
The Smith Family