Happy New Year to all our wonderful students, teachers and organisations.


I often blog about research I’m undertaking or ideas that are relevant to the Tute pedagogy.  However, this week I am hi-jacking the Tute blog for some shameless self-promotion in relation to a charitable organisation and charity that I have recently become involved with. Since working here at Tute, I have been lucky enough to be given some amazing opportunities; going back to university to complete my Doctorate, attending conferences like the Festival of Education, support in applying to do research overseas and the amazing everyday opportunities to work in a pioneering online education environment that is unparalleled.  Part of what I have loved about being here at Tute is the openness to new challenges and approaches and the support we receive in pursuing this.  As a result of this support, I have just applied, been accepted and given a fellowship place to train teachers in Uganda.

This all came about when I came across this amazing project through a serendipitous viewing of a post on Facebook! I actually saw it and thought, ‘Wow! That would be a wonderful thing to do and a fantastic opportunity…for someone else.’ You see, I’d figured I was probably too busy with work and Uni, that as a mother of a beautiful three-year-old daughter, Eleanor, it was too big an ask to tell my husband I wanted to leave the country for a month and I doubted my employer would be entirely willing to let me have a month off.  I was wrong.

I told three close friends about the programme, wondering if it might be something that they would be as enticed by as I was.  I also read up on all the different locations and continued to research what the programme was about, although, at this point, it was entirely to satisfy my curiosity.  A week and a half later, I was still thinking about the programme.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to travel to a developing country and explore pedagogy from an entirely new perspective? How do teachers teach outside of the mainstream British education system that I have spent my career within?  Would the pedagogical approaches I had studied as a teacher, during my MA and continued to explore as part of my current Doctorate in Education be transferable to an alternative culture and teaching context?  How might the skills I’d developed in over a decade be of benefit to other teachers?

I’d always enjoyed taking on roles of subject and professional mentoring within a teacher training guise and for the last three years I had been working outside of schools for Tute, where I had grown increasingly involved in the training of new online teachers.  I always found these elements of my job to be really interesting and rewarding, especially because I hold a strong belief that working with others on developing their teaching is the best way to reflect on and improve your own practice; watching someone else teach, identifying what they do and how they do it is a great way to gain inspiration and learn new techniques that make you a better teacher too!

So, after all this time obsessing, I mentioned it to my husband and my parents in passing, anticipating a less than favourable response. My husband, the man I would have to leave as a solo parent for a month, instantly told me to go for it.  He has been nothing but supportive and encouraging.  He hasn’t hesitated for a moment in telling me that we could make it work.  He spent hours sat scouring the internet with me, checking facts and stats on safety and security in the fellowship countries.  My parents were a little more surprised by the revelation, Mum in particular concerned about my safety, but they got on board as soon as I was able to allay their fears and even went so far as to donate the money required for the deposit for my place.  I could not ask for better support from my family.  My daughter on the other hand, thinks it’s a terrible idea…I’ve got six months to convince her mummy going away is a good thing.

No doubt this will be the hardest thing for me in taking part in the programme.  I’ve never had more than a couple of nights away from my little girl.  I will miss her so much, but my husband who is very wise sometimes (just don’t tell him that-he’d never let me forget it!), suggested that it’s not a good enough reason not to do this.  I will be giving up 29 nights with my daughter, but how many other people’s daughters could benefit from the good this programme will do?  How many people have an opportunity to participate in a charitable programme with the capacity to make such a huge difference?  As much as being away from my daughter will break my heart, it will be amazing to explain to her why mummy is going and how the programme is helping other children and their teachers so that they too can have the kind of future I imagine for her.  This is the sort of example I want to set for her and its why I will be able to do this.

With family support in place, I spoke to Vanessa and Sean here at Tute.  It’s a big ask for a teacher to take a month off in term time, but then I work for a company that was established in order to make education more accessible and with the purpose of making the best teaching available to all irrespective of location or background.  I don’t think there was more than thirty seconds between me dropping this bombshell and Tute agreeing to it and offering to make a donation to the fund! I shouldn’t really have been surprised.  Tute always have supported not just me, but learners across the country and even globe in fulfilling their potential.

My interview went really well and within a week I had my place secured.  So far I have been so very lucky in gaining support.  It’s all seeming a bit too good to be true!  But now the hard work begins.  I’ve begun fundraising via my gofundme page and I am beginning to plan as many activities as possible for the New Year.   The local paper (The Chester Chronicle) has even run a story about my plans!  I will be keeping a separate blog as I prepare for the project and to update everyone (anyone who might be interested, that is) as I embark on my fundraising efforts, this can be found here.

Wish me luck everyone!

To read more on the project, please take a look here:


To make a donation, please visit here:


If you’d like to work for Tute, apply here:



By Sharon Smith

Sharon studied English Language and Literature at The University of Manchester, then went on to graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University with a PGCE in Secondary English and, later, a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning.  She is currently undertaking a Doctorate in Education at The University of Chester.  She is mum to daughter Ellie and when she’s not juggling being a working mum and an eternal student/proud, self-confessed geek, she enjoys consuming a little bit of wine and far too much chocolate.

Were you counting on the NTS to support your school?


In 2015 England’s then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, announced the National Teaching Service (NTS). The original plan was for 1500 outstanding teachers to be deployed in schools that needed them most. Further to conducting a pilot this year it was decided the scheme will not progress any further. The Times Education Supplement reported that only 57 teachers were recruited from a total of just 116 applicants

The level of interest shown and decision to abandon the service has no doubt disappointed schools hoping to benefit. It is well known that schools in challenging areas struggle to recruit and retain staff. As a result, they are unable to offer their students the opportunities and the curriculum they would like them to have.

The DfE have confirmed their intention to support struggling schools with recruitment but whilst they decide how, students continue to suffer. The pressure schools are under to raise standards does not go away either and with newly announced budget cuts now compounding concerns, the future of struggling schools is looking bleak.

The purpose of the NTS was to bring the best teachers to those who need them most, a mission that aligns closely with Tute’s purpose. We deploy our team of outstanding online teachers into schools across the country to help improve outcomes for students, regardless of their location. We have done our research and have accumulated evidence and case studies that confirm the impact of our interventions.

Our live and interactive teaching online is not location dependent and can overcome geographical implications upon issues such as recruitment and retention of staff or lack of subject expertise. Tute teachers can work in any school, without actually needing to be there. We can increase your capacity to meet individual learning needs whilst lowering the cost of doing so, helping to personalise your curriculum offer.

With our GCSE revision programmes due to start in January, we can support immediate impact upon results for your students this academic year. Our qualified and experienced teachers have received exam board training and can help coach students to get good results under both old and new specifications.

If you would like to see a Tute teacher in action in your school, then contact us to arrange a free taster lesson and see how we can add to your existing teaching team.



Considered by many as the most esteemed accolade in the industry, the BETT Awards provide a showcase of resources and companies that seek to provide educators with the information, ideas and inspiration that are fundamental to the learning process.


Tute are one of a handful of technology educators to be recognised in the ‘ICT Tools for Teaching, Learning and Assessment.


CEO and Founder of Tute, Sean Gardner, hopes the accolade will raise the profile of Tute and help beat the stubborn gap between the children who do well at school and those who don’t:


“We are delighted to have been listed as finalists at the BETT Awards. Tute’s purpose is to make the best teaching available to everyone, irrespective of their location or their background. All the research has proven that Tute is as effective as traditional teaching and learning. But what makes it more effective is the fact that it can reach anyone, anywhere at any time. Combining this with the finest learning resources and the best teaching, means that we are able to bridge that gap between schools and families and transform educational outcomes. We have everything crossed for the judging next month!”

The BETT Awards are a celebration of the inspiring creativity and innovation that can be found throughout technology for education. They form an integral part of BETT each year, the world’s leading showcase of education technology solutions. The winners are seen to have excelled in ICT provision and support for nurseries, schools, colleges and special schools alike with a clear focus on what works in the classroom.


The announcement follows this week’s launch of Tute At Home; a new style of home tutoring that’s set to change the face of home tutoring. Until now, parents hoping to bolster children’s academic results with out-of-school teaching support have had to pay anything from twenty-five to fifty pounds per lesson. Tute is revolutionising this dynamic with the launch of a technology-enabled service that offers a child a place in a lesson for just ten pounds.


Details of other finalists can be found at the Bett Awards website.

Final judging will take place on December 5th & 6th 2016 with the overall winners being announced shortly after.

End of an Ofsted era




As Sir Michael Wilshaw concludes his five-year term as head of Ofsted, we at Tute would like to acknowledge his very important contribution to education in this country. Applauded and vilified simultaneously for his efforts, he has never been diverted from his mission to improve the educational prospects of all children, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds.

A factor that has defined his tenure is the “urgency” of his mission. It was never ok with him to put in place measures that might, in due course, bring about the hoped for improvement in children’s educational outcomes. He believed that steps had to be taken straight away because, to delay any measure, risked allowing a whole cohort of students being left behind. The loss of those children’s potential was something that he was not prepared to tolerate.

This urgency did not help recommend him to an already pressed educational establishment struggling under the weight of exhaustive educational reforms. However, for someone given the role of steward of educational standards, who wanted to ensure that no child was left behind, his motivation was plain, and appropriate.

Here at Tute, we share Sir Michael Wilshaw’s ambitions to make great teaching available to all, regardless of background or location. In partnership with schools and local authorities we have facilitated the delivery of education to some of the country’s most disenfranchised children. We are dedicated to raising educational attainment for those children who are outside the school system for one reason or another.

We are also committed to finding ways of delivering the value-added benefits that the best schools seek to provide but often struggle to, including STEM club initiatives to encourage the scientists of the future. We hope to make Tute achieve an even more global reach in the future through the versatility and accessibility of our online Learning Cloud.

As we embark on our B2C programme, our motivation is also to ensure that home tutoring is no longer only available to those who can afford the very high rates charged for home tutoring of over £20 an hour. Instead, using our learning cloud, we are going to make high quality, accessible, small group tutoring available to all from the comfort and convenience of their own homes in a safe and secure online learning environment.

With lessons available at an affordable £10 and free places being made available to disadvantaged children in schools where students take up our tutoring, it is our mission to ensure that the benefits of small-group tutoring become available to all so that children are given every opportunity to fulfil their potential.

We wish Sir Michael Wilshaw a happy opportunity to step back from what must have been a very demanding role. We also wish him every success in his future plans because we are confident he will have more to contribute to the educational debate in this country.



Sarah Hazel

I began my science career as a zoologist undergraduate and postgraduate at the Queen’s University of Belfast before taking up a postdoctoral research position and then lectureship at Liverpool University researching wildlife diseases. The arrival of my children and a house move to Cambridgeshire changed all that! After a career break I decided to go into secondary science teaching and enthuse the next generation of scientists. Tute has given me the opportunity to do just that and it has been very rewarding experience. STEM initiatives to encourage and support young scientists is the something I am passionate about supporting and hopefully we will be able to do just that.

The latest step on our social journey: free lessons for your Pupil Premium pupils


When we set out on our journey, our Creed mandated that we helped to democratise education with our role in that vision being to disrupt tutoring, and to make this accessible to all. Whilst we still have some way to go, this month represents a significant milestone in that we are to launch our services into the home, and allow parents to buy seats in Tute lessons for their children for just £10.

Our research shows that this move puts us well down the path of ensuring that great teaching is available to the majority of parents rather than the minority. Research undertaken by Doctoral candidates at the University of Chester alongside Durham University and our school partners, shows that we are as effective as traditional teaching and learning. But, what makes it more effective is the fact that it can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time.


We are now looking to partner with schools to take our new service to parents. Schools working with us will benefit because, rather than spend our money on marketing, we will give them £5,000 – £10,000 seats in our lessons for disadvantaged pupils on FSM. We need 50 schools for our phase 1 launch – you can find our more and an application form here:


Download our application here

How to run small scale trials for educational interventions in your school


In the for Tute I briefly outlined the basics of research design and why schools should use randomised controlled trials if the question they need answering involves effectiveness. If a single group design is used, for example implementing a mathematics intervention to see if it improves pupil premium student’s attainment without a control group, many other alternative explanations could explain any improvements. These single group studies are usually the design used in evaluating educational interventions in schools and educational businesses selling interventions to schools. However, these are fundamentally flawed if you want to try to infer causation (such as the intervention improved mathematics attainment of pupil premium students) and you want to find out how much effect the intervention has on your pupils. If you have not read the previous blog on understanding research designs, this covers the reasons and it is worth a read to try to grasp the logic behind this.


The purpose of this article is to help you think through how to evaluate an educational intervention. As this is a blog for Tute, I will use an online Year 8 mathematics programme delivered by qualified teachers in small groups for the example. Therefore, as a teacher or school leader in charge of pupil premium students, you have identified pupils in year 8 who are behind their peers for attainment. The research question you need to ask involves effectiveness as you are going to be using a Tute mathematics programme to try and close the gap in attainment. Therefore, does the use of small online group teaching improve the attainment of Year 8 pupils in mathematics? I will refer back to this question in the limitations, but as a teacher this is what you want to find out. So, what should you do next?


Hopefully, you now realise that selecting the 12 pupils for the intervention, providing a pre-test, delivering the intervention and post-test to show any improvements is not a robust way to evaluate the intervention. Yet, most school evaluations take this approach in an attempt to find out if educational interventions work. I will now try to outline a simple step by step ‘DIY’ way to evaluate an intervention such as Tute so that your evidence is more robust.


Step 1: Create a research question. It is important to frame your question carefully, including the type of intervention, an outcome and context. For example, “What impact does the Tute data handling mathematics programme have on pupil premium students over 12 weeks?”


Step 2: Decide your outcome measure. It is important to decide on an outcome measure and the type of assessment that you will use. As a teacher, the three main options are using national assessments, standardised tests or designing your own. In this example, I have included two easy options to consider. First, Tute use an online assessment programme called Afliesoft. The assessment self-marks and is independent of Tute (pupil marks are shown when they sit the test), so this is quick and easy to implement as well as being technically blinded as the computer marks the test (reduces potential bias). Secondly, if your school uses an assessment at the start of a topic such as data handling as a diagnostic tool, this can act as a pre-test and the end of topic assessment as the post-test. The advantage of this is that the pupils do not sit any extra assessments.


Step 3 – Create your comparator group. The previous blog explained why I believe randomised trials are stronger than matched groups, so this is how I would select and randomise the pupils. First, the Tute programme is designed for 12 pupils so your sample size will be 24 (12 in the intervention and 12 in the control). As the sample is small, a simple blocked randomisation can be used. After the pre-test, rank the pupils from 1st to 24th based on attainment in the test. Next you will create two groups, the intervention and control. For pupils 1st and 2nd, either use a coin toss or mix up their names (small pieces of paper) and assign the pupils randomly to either the intervention or control group. Next, repeat for the 3rd and 4th pupils, then 5th and 6th, and so on. This should provide a balanced control group based on attainment, as this is the outcome you are interested in. Just a quick note, as this is a wait list design, the pupils in the control receive the Tute intervention after the 12 weeks. So all 24 pupils will get the intervention, but not at the same time.


Step 4 – Deliver the intervention. The control group continue as business as usual with mathematics lessons and the intervention group receive the Tute lessons (additionally to their maths lessons and not a replacement). Through the use of a comparator group, many alternative explanations are minimised.


Step 5 – Deliver the post-test. All 24 pupils complete the post assessment.


Step 6 – Analyse the data. The easiest way to calculate the effect size to determine the impact of the intervention is to use the effect size calculator on the Education Endowment Foundation website. The link is:https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evaluation/diy-guide/analysis/


The effect size uses the mean post-test scores and standard deviations for the control and intervention group. In simple terms, any effect size over +0.20 is good as this demonstrates a moderate impact of the intervention.


Step 7 – Control group. The pupils in the control group now receive the Tute intervention so that any ethical concerns regarding pupils missing the intervention are eliminated.



Basically, the steps above allow you to run a small scale evaluation of the intervention using a robust research design. However, as with all research it does have limitations. The main limitations are as follows:


• Sample size. The sample size is very small as the evaluation uses only 24 pupils so the experiment is insufficiently powered. This just means that the sample is too small to make generalisations about the impact. However, I propose that Tute schools conduct these small scale evaluations and the results are aggregated to increase the sample size. Ideally, schools follow protocols and use the same assessments, but initially this could be with subject areas or age ranges.
• Research questions. The results from the trial are specific to the programme which you have delivered, and it is difficult to generalise to other subjects or pupil year groups without further studies. However, if all schools ran small scale trials, the amount of evidence generated would soon show what looks like a good bet for improving pupil attainment.
• Outcome measure. It is difficult to create or select assessments that accurately measure the outcome (mathematics attainment in data handling in this example) over a 12 week period. Purchased standardised assessments or national tests usually report reliability (Cronbach Alpha or Rasch analysis). For further advice, the EEF DIY evaluation summarises the advantages and disadvantages of the three main types of outcome measures.
• Randomisation. In educational research randomisation should be conducted independently of the person running the intervention to reduce bias. This could be done using another teacher or an independent person.


An experienced educational researcher will probably identify many other weaknesses in a school based trials, yet they would agree that these are a step in the right direction in creating robust evidence on what works. Through the use of a comparator group and randomisation, the research design allows schools to run more rigorous studies and be more confident in evaluating if an intervention is effective.


Finally, if your research question was to see if pupils enjoyed the intervention or were engaged, a randomised trial is not the most appropriate research design. Yet, most schools use interventions to improve attainment and as this links directly to effectiveness, the most appropriate design is often a randomised controlled trial. I hope you have found this useful and if you have any questions regarding setting up an evaluation I would be happy to offer advice.



Wayne Harrison

ESRC Funded PhD Candidate, Durham University

Wayne is an ex-teacher completing a PhD at Durham University. His research focuses on developing school based evidence using aggregated trials and prospective cumulative meta-analyses (he is a self-confessed research methods geek!). He is passionate about online learning and school based research. In his spare time, he enjoys fishing and trying to play squash.

How do you turn around a failing school?


Anyone who has been involved in turning a failing school around knows that it takes planning and hard work, but what are the most effective interventions? A recent study in the Harvard Business Review used data from 160 academies that had been put in remedial measures by OFSTED. They looked at all the interventions these schools used and found that it wasn’t just the type of intervention that had an effect on the outcome but also the order they were implemented had a significant impact. One of their key recommendations following their research was to “improve student behaviour and motivation” early on. Motivated students are ready to learn yet it only takes one disruptive student to ruin lessons for the whole class.


Controversially they noted that one of the ways some successful schools had done this was to exclude disruptive students. Anyone passionate about education  knows that no school wants to exclude pupils. It can lead to terrible outcomes for the student involved as well as involve unforeseen costs to the school if they have to pay for off-site pecialist provision. Many schools would like to offer these students on-site support but lack the capacity.


feedback2At Tute we are passionate about giving all students access to the best teachers. Tute offers Academy Trusts and federations of schools the opportunity to provide their own alternative provision and interventions within their own Trust. Our expert teachers can guide students through chosen subjects in online lessons and within smaller groups. Trusts have full transparency of student data and can measure their students’ progress, seeing the impact of the lessons. Even better for the Trust, they can target this extra support to theirfeedback3disadvantaged and vulnerable learners from different schools in the Trust thereby focusing their intervention directly according to need.


Here at Tute we can show how we can support schools in reducing the risk of permanent exclusion, increasing attendance and raising standards whilst lowering costs.


feedback4In one case study a student went from 0% attendance to 100%. In another study of Tute’s students this year, 91% enjoyed their lessons, 96% felt safe and 93% were confident in their learning. Many schools have found that behaviour and confidence improved after participating in Tute classes. It has also given some students the confidence to re-join mainstream classes. We know that education isn’t just about passing exams it is also about preparing students to have the confidence, tools and skills to succeed after school. Get in touch to see how Tute can support your schools now.



Sarah Profit Ramsay

Sarah Profit Ramsay has been passionate about education for over 20 years when she first became a parent governor in 1995. Since then she has remained involved in education both in school governance and working for a number of education companies before joining the Tute team. She is currently an Academy Councillor for the Oasis Academy Trust.
In her spare time, she likes gardening and attempting to grow vegetables with a varying degree of success, cooking, cycling and keeping fit. She also likes getting out to the countryside with her husband and two dogs. She has also been known to take part in a number of triathlons.


Exam results


As you’re reading this, thousands of students are nervously heading to their schools and colleges to collect their all-important exam results. I still remember this day from my own adolescence; hardly sleeping at all the night before-too edgy to relax and drift off to sleep, not being able to stomach breakfast before we left the house, meeting up with my uneasy friends on the way to school-all equally nervous about how we’d done in (what then seemed then to be) the most important tests of our lives.  I remember the brown envelopes that enclosed our results and watching my school mates open theirs; some tore them open quickly, as if ripping off a plaster, others tentatively peeled back the lip of the envelope, as if tearing it could somehow negatively affect their grades, some retreated to dark corners so no one could see them when they’d finally plucked up the courage to finally open the envelope and look at their results.  Their reactions were just as varied; some cried jubilant tears as they achieved all they’d hoped for, maybe even more, whooping and cheering in celebration.  Others were distraught at their grades, believing this one grade on a piece of paper was going to dictate their entire life and it was not what they’d hope for.  They felt they had failed and were labelling themselves as failures from this point on-a label that, for some, would stick well in to adulthood, even if this was not what everyone else thought! A few appeared blasé and you really couldn’t tell if they were pleased or disappointed.  It was until much later in life that I managed to learn that some people were really good and hiding their inner emotions.


Looking back, the pressure I and the rest of the students at my school felt was phenomenal. So much emphasis had been placed on those results, it was no wonder that some crumbled as they opened their envelopes.  I was lucky and got the grades I’d wanted.  I’d worked hard and didn’t freeze (totally) on exam day, but some of the students I finished school with were not so happy.  Some had been unlucky-perhaps had just missed out by a mark or two on their predicted grades, some had been too young and immature (who isn’t at 16 or 18?) to settle down quickly enough to make the expected progress, some had been excellent students who simply couldn’t handle the pressure of terminal exams and their nerves had got the better of them.


The pressure and range of emotions will be exactly the same today.  Students will arrive with the same roiling in their stomachs and will feel the same sense of enormity as they collect their results.  If anything, the pressure we put on our students has increased in the (many) years since I was a high school student.  Our government and education systems have created more measures of progress, more standards for students to meet, more qualification hoops for them to jump through. Many students will be delighted with their results; their hard work will have paid off, their teachers will have helped them to achieve their potential and they will look optimistically toward the next stage of their studies or work lives.  But, as is the case every year, there will inevitably be some students feeling dismayed by the end of the day and uncertain of the paths that they should now take and it’s those students in particular that I think we should be supporting the most on a day like today.


At Tute we work with such a hugely diverse range of students. Many are high flyers achieving the highest possible grades and we are always so proud of the role we play in helping them to meet their potentials.  Over the last few days, I have been collating the student feedback responses from our Learning Programmes and Full Courses at GCSE and A-Level and, as ever, the results are overwhelmingly positive.  The vast majority of students in either programme enjoy their lessons, feel safe and well supported in the online setting and feel they make progress that prepares them well for assessments or exams.


However, what is always most telling is the students’ written responses, where they personally express their experiences of Tute learning.  Indeed, our high flyers have lots to report:


“Learning through Tute, with Steve, has been the highlight of my year! I have enjoyed learning Law with him, on this format, very much and I feel these lessons have very much prepared to begin my Law degree in September!”


“Being able to improve my independent study skills with the frequent (and very much beneficial) help of a teacher who was highly knowledgeable and passionate about the subject.”


“In particular I enjoyed being taught by an academic who understood his topic very well and conveyed his passion for the different aspects of the course. I feel as though the tutor’s commitment to the course focused me and motivated me to engage more in the course.”


“I’m really thankful for all of the hard work that my teacher has put in in order to teach us for the past couple of years – her encouraging feedback and insightful lessons really helped me thrive in regards to learning (and understanding) the exam material and producing coursework too. Thank you!”


“My teacher, he has been amazing in really trying to get me the best grade possible and pushing me to do my best.”      


Yet, some of the greatest stories that have emerged from this research are those that belong to the students who might not necessarily be considered high achieving academic students; some deal with complex health issues, some begin their course with a lower expected target grade, some are out of mainstream education and have been for prolonged periods.  That is not to suggest that these are students that don’t have every bit as much potential as students in full time education in prestigious schools with high target grades, but reading their comments gives a narrative about something that is about more than academic progress and exam results alone:


 “The teachers will always ask how are you doing with the lesson and will always care about you. You can always ask anything if you don’t understand something.”


“I would recommend Tute to anyone that has social anxiety such as myself. It’s a great tool, I feel comfortable in the lessons, and don’t feel like anything is holding me back. I am not worried to make mistakes like I would be in a class room. I’ve really enjoyed these lessons over the last few days, and I really want to stay apart of Tute. It is such a great platform, for anyone that has issues with being in a main stream school. It has given me chances to share my opinions and have a voice. I would not be the same in a normal class. It’s been great also thanks to the fact I have had a lot more time to myself, to continue doing what I love.”  


 “I have really enjoyed feeling more confident about answering questions & voicing my opinions. I really like how the timings of the lessons give you chance to do more of what you enjoy. I also have anxiety in which being in a normal class room is REALLY hard for me, and I worry about how I look, what am I doing, what do people think of me etc., in which I don’t get a lot of tasks done sadly, and that makes me fall behind. In Virtual Learning I do not have to worry about that, which helps me to concentrate more on the work and helps me learn a lot more. I feel that over the last two weeks I have learnt more than I had in year 9 all together. It has really helped me and I love it! The teachers are fantastic and really kind and nice. We all help each other out in the chat room, and complete the work given at a high level. I cannot stress enough how much I really love this platform and how much it already has helped me, I really look forward to my schooling future with Virtual Learning, and I have NEVER looked forward to doing education.”  


What I am always most proud of when thinking about the work that we do with our students here at Tute is the way that their learning is truly all about them.  It’s about us supporting our students in achieving the very best they can, whatever that result might be.  Often, it is about helping them to pass the exam and relieving as much pressure as we can by instilling in our students the confidence to know that they are well-prepared and ready to complete whatever tasks an exam might throw at them.  However, it is also about helping them to achieve self-belief, enabling them to engage with not just their subject, but their learning and other students in meaningful and beneficial ways.  Sometimes it is about encouraging students when they believed they ‘can’t’ so that they know that they ‘can.’  As teachers, it should be our burden to deal with the pressure of exam result accountability, not our students’.  If they are inspired to learn and enjoying their work, the rest should follow accordingly.  This is part of what we strive for at Tute.  By providing students not just with the highest quality teaching in a medium that suits their learning styles and ensuring they are well supported, we give them the best possible climate for personal growth and success.


So, as our students arrive at their exam centres this morning to receive those terrifying brown envelopes and reveal the results that they spent last night anxiously awaiting, I hope that they are able to remember two things:
1.No one set of exam results is ever going to dictate the rest of your entire life. It may feel that way, but this is just one small step in your journey and there will be a hundred more opportunities for you to find your way, so long as you are open to them. When you get your results, we wish you every success and I am confident that we will see the best results yet from our Tute cohorts, but even if they are not all you hoped, don’t panic.  You have your whole lives ahead of you to achieve wonderful things and you will.


2.Whatever your results, we are proud of you. We are proud to have been a part of your learning journey, proud of the progress you’ve made, both academically and otherwise and we are proud that you have enjoyed and got so much from the Full Courses and Learning Programmes that you have completed with us.



Not all that is important in the acts of teaching and learning is encompassed in a single set of exam results and much of what is needed to succeed is often forgotten in the pressure cooker of exam study.  I just hope that in all the frenzied reports of exam results that we see in the media today, our students take some time to reflect on all that they achieved, both within and without that grade. Well done.


Here’s to a new year of success in September.

Sharon studied English Language and Literature at The University of Manchester, then went on to graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University with a PGCE in Secondary English and, later, a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning.  She is currently undertaking a Doctorate in Education at The University of Chester.  She is mum to daughter Ellie and when she’s not juggling being a working mum and an eternal student/proud, self-confessed geek, she enjoys consuming a little bit of wine and far too much chocolate.


Understanding educational research designs and how these can be used to find out what works in education.


As a teacher, I fully admit that I did not engage in educational research. The majority of my time involved marking, planning, completing endless paper work and chasing pupils for behaviour and then finally the part I enjoyed the most… the teaching. During my 10 years involved in classrooms I have seen many initiatives aimed at improving outcomes for pupils, from brain gym to learning style questionnaires to whole school implementation of new teaching styles. It was not until I started an MA in Educational Research Methods, as part of an ESRC funded PhD at Durham University did I realise how little evidence these interventions are based on. The purpose of this blog is to introduce a few of the basic concepts of research design and explain why I think schools should demand more robust evidence from businesses involved in providing educational interventions.

The majority of educational interventions are designed to improve student outcomes, so the important question is how effective is this intervention and does it improve the intended outcome (usually attainment). Yes, companies might have questionnaires and surveys on how much the pupils are engaged and enjoyed the intervention, but does this actually improve the pupil’s attainment?

I will start this blog with an example of how most educational businesses might use evidence to promote their products to schools. A technology company explains that their new app increases pupil’s attainment by 30% for mathematics. The company used a pre-test, implemented the application on a class set of tablets and gave a post-test at the end of the term. The mean result for the class improved by 30% so the business sales rep explains that this provides evidence of the impact of the intervention. Take a second to think about how they conducted this research and more importantly, do you think this is good evidence?

I will not answer this question yet, as I hope the next part of the post will allow you to decide for yourself.  Firstly, it is important to understand the basics of research design and this starts with the design notations. These are actually really easy to understand, with the main elements expressed as these letters:

O = observations or measures (these could be a test, questionnaire, interview, etc)

X = intervention

Next, each group is given its own line in the design structure. If the design has three lines, three groups of students are involved in the design. Time moves from left to right, so the elements on the left occur before the elements on the right. Finally, it is important to understand the assignment to groups (I will explain this latter) but basically you have three major types. These are:

R =Random assignment

N = Non-equivalent assignment (basically not randomly assigned)

C = Cut off (this could be based on a score in a test with pupils below a certain score taking part)

So let’s looks at a very simple design.

    N          O

In the example above, you have one group of students (not random assignment) and one observation such as a questionnaire or observation. Often, companies use case studies just as these to tell a story of their product and how much students enjoyed the intervention. Yet, these are not suitable for research questions involving the effectiveness of an intervention if the outcome is attainment.

Now, let’s look at the design for the question on the mathematics app. If you were to scribble this down of on a piece of paper it should look like this:

  N            O             X              O

A class of students are not randomly assigned, they complete a pre-test, complete the intervention (app) over the term and are given the post-test. This is called a single group design because it only has one line and one group. When I look at evidence on educational company websites, this is a very common design. I hope you can see a major weakness in the design of this research, as no comparator group is used. If you are looking for at effectiveness questions, such as does this intervention improve attainment, causation must be inferred. This just means that the company is saying that the intervention has caused the improvement in attainment, yet alternative explanations can be provided for the increase in scores if only a single group design is used. Here are a few:

  • Temporal change – this just means that self-learning will occur irrespective of the intervention. Any intervention or treatment mixed up with these temporal changes are difficult to disentangle if no comparator group (control) is used.
  • Regression to the mean – with extreme scores likely to change in the post-test regardless of the intervention.
  • Instrumentation threats – if the same assessment is used pre and post-test then familiarity with the test can result in an increase in the score.
  • History threats – during the time the application was implemented, the head of maths provided additional support to this class as it as a key examination class (extra in class support and homework booklet).
  • Mortality / Attrition– a number of students dropped out or missed the assessment so they were not included in the analysis. If students who struggled with maths missed the assessments, this could bias the results.
  • Sample size – the sample size included only one class of 30 pupils, this is insufficiently powered to make generalisations.

I could go on but I hope you can see that the claim of 30% improvement in attainment could now have a number of alternative explanations for the increase in test scores. In education, the counterfactual is knowing what would have happened if the intervention was not delivered. So, we could use a design with two groups and set this up as an experiment (quasi- experiment). If you scribble down the design it should look like this.

N            O             X              O

N            O                             O

I hope you can see that the design above is much stronger than the previous pre-test / post-test design as it has a comparator group. Many of the threats to the validity of the design are reduced. For example, if the pupils were being taught that area of mathematics in lessons then the control group would improve as well as the intervention group due to the teaching rather than the app. If the intervention group score higher in the test, then this increase could be attributed to using the application. This seems more robust than the previous design, yet bias could still be an issue with this design.

In educational research, randomised controlled trials are often regarded as best design for effectiveness studies and these are used by organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as the preferred design for evaluating interventions. Basically, randomisation just means that pupils are assigned to the intervention or control randomly with the aim of balancing out all the unseen variables if the sample size is large enough. In the previous example, the students in the intervention may happen to have more supportive parents with access tuition or technology at home. It does not matter how well the groups are matched (pupil premium, ability, EAL), it is impossible to balance the groups for unseen variables. Therefore, if pupils are randomly assigned it reduces the possibility of bias at the selection and allocation to the intervention. The design would look like this:

R           O             X              O

R            O                             O

Often, people object to randomised trials as they argue these are not ethical as the pupils in the control do not receive the intervention. However, through including a wait list design the control receive the intervention later in the academic year. It now looks like this:

R            O             X              O

R            O                             O           X

I hope you can now see that a randomised trial with a wait list design is a very strong research design for effectiveness studies as it has very high internal validity (reduces the number of alternative explanations for the improvement). Yet, an issue with these types of trials are that they are often run at one point in time with large numbers of schools taking part, as a large sample size is required for sufficient power. In research terms, they have weak external validity when trying to generalise outside of the trial population.

My research at Durham University focuses on the development of school based aggregated trials, allowing these types of trials to be run on a small scale with all the schools following the same protocol for the research design. The results are pooled together in a prospective cumulative meta-analysis so that the small trials combine to increase the sample size and create an evidence base for schools on what works. Initially I started my research investigating the effectiveness of group sizes for online peer tuition but I have recently designed and implemented an effectiveness study for Tute online small group lessons for Year 7 mathematics (fractions). The trial involved 5 schools, selecting 24 students requiring mathematics support with a total sample size of 120 pupils. In each school 12 students were selected using block randomisation based on pre-test scores and these formed the intervention group for the school with the remaining 12 students continuing as business as usual. The first cohort of schools have completed the trial and I will be repeating the exact same trial twice more in the next academic year so that the final sample is large enough to make generalisations about the effectiveness of the Tute Year 7 maths (fraction) programme.

The purpose of this blog has been to try to explain why schools should be demanding more rigorous evidence based on the design of research, especially the limitations of particular designs. I would urge schools to consider setting up your own trials to evaluate educational interventions, rather than use single group designs or case studies. I do believe case studies have a purpose in educational research but not when the research questions involves the effectiveness of interventions. On a personal note, I aim to support Tute to allow schools to run micro-trials to evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions provided by the company with the ultimate aim of creating an evidence base for schools to use. Finally I hope this post has been useful and I will be summarising the recent research in future blog posts.

wayneWayne Harrison

PhD Student (ESRC funded) Durham University