Last week, the Victorian Government announced a $250m package that will see more than 4,100 tutors deployed across Victorian schools in 2021.
The tutoring blitz aims to ensure that any student who may have fallen behind or become disengaged gets quality academic support.
In June, the Grattan Institute called on governments to send a battalion of 100,000 tutors into schools between now and Christmas to conduct intensive small-group sessions on reading and maths.
Responding to the Victorian Government’s announcement, the Institute’s acting program director, Julie Sonnemann, says that while the government’s money for tutors is necessary, there are several important things it needs to do to ensure the initiative is successful.
The Institute’s report in June found a large cohort of disadvantaged students — especially those from the poorest families, with learning difficulties, or where languages other than English are spoken at home — will have fallen much further behind than their classmates during the school closures.
“Our analysis shows disadvantaged students in Victoria are likely to have lost somewhere between two and six months of learning over the remote schooling period,” Sonnemann wrote in an article published in The Conversation.
“The equity gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students grows at triple the rate during remote schooling. These learning losses compound an existing equity problem in schools, and increase the risk of students disengaging”.
Sonnemann said that tutoring is expensive, but can provide big benefits in quick time.
“Tutoring programs overseas have consistently proven beneficial, with some students gaining an additional three to five months of learning over just one to two terms of schooling,” she said.
Sonnemann said that if implemented well, the tutoring package would be enough to stem much of the predicted learning losses for disadvantaged students, but said five extra steps should be taken to ensure it gets its money’s worth:
- The initiative relies on teachers to correctly identify students who are struggling, and why. The government should ensure some of the money is spent on extra training for teachers who need it
- Successful tutoring depends on selecting high-quality, well-trained tutors. Schools can’t be expected to screen the quality of tutor recruits by themselves. The government should set the quality standards, and could commission a third party to ensure only the best tutors are hired
- The government should give schools guidance on effective literacy and numeracy programs that involve small-group or one-on-one tuition. There are existing programs that, on evaluation, show they can have large impacts in specific areas such as maths, oral language skills or certain aspects of reading
- The government should evaluate the impact of the catch-up tutoring to give insight on what works for a COVID response, but also to close the much larger existing equity gap for disadvantaged students long-term. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must not be missed
- The government should require accountability from schools on how the extra funds are spent. For example, schools should be expected to invest in tutoring where it is relevant, or to explain the nature of investments in other initiatives which the school believes are needed.
Sonnemann said Victoria’s plan to find high-quality tutors from existing retired, casual, or student teachers is a good start, but if it proves difficult to find enough quality candidates from this pool, other options should be considered.
“University graduates from all disciplines and teaching assistants can have large benefits, as well as large tutoring providers,” she said.
“The UK’s new national tutoring scheme has a lot of quality assurance built into it. For example, schools can either choose to employ a tutor directly who has been trained and screened, or use a tutor from a “quality assured” tutoring provider”. Sonnemann added that financial incentives encourage schools to choose tutoring providers that have demonstrated high evaluation standards.
What about other states?
Sonnemann pointed out that while remote schooling did not last as long in the other states and the territories, disadvantaged students would still benefit from a similar package — just a smaller one to Victoria’s.
“Extra support should be available so students across Australia don’t slip through the cracks,” she said.
“Victoria’s tutoring announcement this week should become a model for all Australian states and territories”.