Peer tutoring is ineffective and can be detrimental, research finds

Two new studies on peer tutoring conclude that the technique – which involves students helping each other to learn – makes no impact on reading or maths scores.

The results from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) contrast with previous research identifying peer tutoring as one of the most effective ways to improve learning.

The EEF evaluations of Paired Reading and the Durham Shared Maths Project, published today, say that neither project has any impact on children’s attainment.

Previous EEF advice, based on nine studies, estimated that peer tutoring could help students to make an extra six months progress over a year.

Robbie Coleman, research manager at the EEF, said: “Today’s findings are surprising because international and British evidence collected to date on peer tutoring has been very positive. It would be a big mistake to ignore the new findings or attempt to brush them under the carpet.

“Both individual studies appear to be robust, due to the quality of the evaluation design, the number of schools involved and the fact that most schools that began the project stayed involved until the end.

“But equally, we should not dismiss the international and domestic evidence base that has accumulated over the past 33 years, when the first review of peer tutoring included in the Toolkit was published.”

In the Paired Reading programme, Year 7s are tutored by Year 9s during timetabled sessions for 20 minutes a week.

The younger pupil chooses a book that is above their reading ability and the two pupils begin to read it aloud together. The older pupil then stops reading, listens to the younger pupil and helps them to pronounce any tricky words. Tutors are expected to praise the younger pupils when they read a difficult word well.

But some teachers found that Year 9s were not mature enough to take on the responsibility and some lower-ability Year 9s had their confidence knocked because they were embarrassed to have the same reading ability as a Year 7.

Not only did Paired Reading fail to impact on pupils’ reading ability, according to the report, the findings also “seem to indicate that the programme was in fact detrimental to Year 9 girls’ [who acted as tutors] levels of reading ability”.

The Durham Shared Maths Project involves Year 3 and Year 5 pupils being paired to work on maths problems set by the Year 3 class teacher. The sessions in the trial took place for 20 minutes a week over two, 16-week blocks. A second bout of peer-tutoring took place after the children had moved up into Years 4 and 6.

The report concludes: “The results of the study suggest that Durham Shared Maths version of cross-age peer tutoring on its own is unlikely to lead to an improvement in the mathematic performance of primary school-aged pupils.

“Teachers that were interviewed as part of the process evaluation indicated there may be wider benefits from using Shared Maths, such as improvements in confidence in maths, attitudes towards maths, approaches to problem-solving and social skills. They felt that these benefits may in time help support improvements in learning, and transfer to other lessons, although further work is needed here.”

Following the evaluations carried out by research organisation NatCen, which assessed the programmes through randomised controlled trials, the EEF will be altering its advice on peer tutoring. The method as a whole is now estimated to help pupils make five months’ progress over a year, rather than six months as previously stated.

Read the TES feature on the launch of the EEF’s previous evaluation here

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