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Should you send your children to GCSE support lessons?

With ever increasing class sizes and often some challenging behaviour, it can be challenging for teenagers to fully absorb what they need from lessons at secondary school.

Once students start to slip behind, it can become more and more difficult for them to catch up in a room with twenty other learners vying for attention or creating a distraction.

A rapidly growing number of parents are now sending their children to support lessons where they can receive attention in small groups that are tailored to their learning needs. Unlike a large classroom, these small sessions can explore different ways of engaging with the subject and students enjoy a freedom and informality that they may not necessarily find at school.

Now comes the big question: how effective are they?

Evidence on the effectiveness of individual and small group tutoring in school shows mixed results (Ireson and Rushforth, 2005). Some tutoring programmes show demonstrate positive effects on attainment; others show little if any improvement. The teaching methods and the class sizes have been shown to have a direct impact on students’ attainment. Those students in small study groups who develop a good relationship with a competent tutor can achieve attainment about two standard deviations above the average student of similar level who does not receive tutoring (Bloom, 1984).

However, the quality of teaching provided by private tutors is frequently neither gauged nor monitored. One-to-one facetime does not therefore necessarily mean a better learning experience for the child.

The timing of the sessions is also important. For some young adults, the desire to improve their grades isn’t innate at the age of 13 or 14 and they are less likely to engage in extra-curricular learning. In fact, pushing a child into attending extra lessons for a subject that they haven’t yet engaged with can have the detrimental effect of ‘turning them off’ that subject further. Therefore, extra lessons should come at a time when the students can understand the benefits and want to improve themselves.

Whilst some researches report a sizeable increase in attainment in test groups, others report more modest results. Some of the more successful groups were taught by highly skilled tutors, well-versed in educational psychology, who can provide a variety of teaching methods. The credentials of the teacher should therefore always be checked out before signing your child up. There should also be a program of peer-review and lesson monitoring so that you know that the teacher is performing to a recognised standard. Look for feedback from previous students and find out about the school or teacher’s success rates beforehand. Are they asking to see school reports and other relevant information before the teaching begins?

Since beginning our GCSE support lessons at the Berkshire School of English, we have seen some of our students’ academic levels rise by two whole grades after just four focused sessions. This is because the lessons are small and adaptable and we always assess the students’ needs before the course starts. We also make sure that the lessons are what the students want, not just mum and dad think they do. That way, we know that we can work together to learn more.

If you are interested in signing up to our support lessons, we provide classroom, online or community GCSE English support for children who are at secondary school or are being home schooled.

Rachel Flynn-Delargy
Berkshire School of English

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