When evidence is surprising…

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The recent findings from two EEF randomised controlled trials looking into the impact of peer tutoring have surprised researchers and teachers alike.  Both studies report no ‘positive impact on academic attainment.’

These findings are interesting, primarily because they challenge the evidence gathered thus far – but also because it’s the same team of researchers that led the EEF Shared Maths study in Scotland, which had such a positive impact on the tutees involved.


In the light of this rather startling result, it was good to see the balanced, learning-focused response that EEF have taken to these latest research findings.

‘It would be a mistake to ignore these new findings, or attempt to brush them under the carpet…But equally we should not dismiss the international and domestic evidence base that had accumulated over the past 33 years.’

Read the full response here.

There are some obvious questions that come to mind having read this:

  • What was different between the Scotland study and the English Paired Maths study?
  • Was there any qualitative evidence collected that might shed light on the difference in results between these studies and others?
  • Will the schools in the Shared Maths study be revisited further down the line to see if there might be any longer term impact linked to the reported gains in confidence and improved problem solving and social skills?
  • How much difference might improved support for staff have on student outcomes?
  • What kind of training did the Peer Tutors receive?

This most recent evidence has now been incorporated into the evidence base which drives the Toolkit. The position of peer tutoring within the Toolkit rankings of those interventions which are most cost effective, well-evidenced and have the greatest impact remains strong – in equal 3rd place – which shows the impact of a couple of surprising results on what is a sizeable evidence base gathered over time.

Many folks who know the UFA’s work well (we have been training peer tutors for almost 20 years) might expect us to be a little disappointed by these most recent findings, but what struck me when we debated them recently was that the overriding reaction of our team was not to be concerned about what it might mean for our peer tutoring programmes, but to be spurred on to want to find out more.

What needs to happen now is for us, as educators and researching professionals, to dig deeper; find out more about the process of peer tutoring, why it works, when it works and why sometimes, as shown by these latest findings – it doesn’t seem to have the impact we might expect.

Here are a few things we’d like to find out more about:

  • What are the elements of a successful peer tutoring programme?
  • What is the impact on the tutee?
  • What is the impact on the tutor?
  • What is the teacher’s role in supporting successful peer tutoring? And what training might be necessary here?
  • What training is necessary for the tutors to be well prepared?
  • What does this training ‘curriculum’ look like?
  • What needs to be in place strategically in a school for peer tutoring to be successful?
  • What other questions do we need to be asking?

At UFA our experience and the data we have amassed since we first began training peer tutors in 1997 leads us to believe that peer tutoring can have a profound impact on both tutor and tutee. These most recent findings will spur us on to set up more robust research, ask better questions and find out more about the nature of what works (and what doesn’t), for tutors, tutees, teachers and schools as organisations.


Other links you might be interested in:

Alex Quigley’s blog The Potential Perils of Peer Tutoring:

Primary Schoolchildren can be great tutors

Peer Tutoring at Honley High (case study)

From Special Measures to ‘phenomenal change’ in just six weeks – one schools incredible story

Why is peer tutoring not more widely practised?

The Power of peer tutoring

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