School tutoring program: Let’s get this right
The Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT Branch, the union representing teachers and support staff in non-government schools, welcomes the $337 million school tutoring program being rolled out by the NSW Government. The funding is for tutoring of small groups of disadvantaged students whose learning has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IEU urges the NSW Government to involve teachers at every stage to ensure the program’s success. “The union believes classroom teachers are integral to identifying the students most in need of help and identifying the tuition’s focus,” said IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam.
In late 2020, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that, based on assessments in the second half of 2020, on average, Year 3 students had fallen three to four months behind in reading, while Year 5 students had slipped two to three months behind in reading and numeracy. Year 9 students were up to four months behind in numeracy.
School education specialists at the Grattan Institute, Julie Sonnemann and Jordana Hunter, agree. “Teachers will need to accurately identify which students have been struggling and why,” they wrote, in The Conversation on 25 January. “They will need to make judgements using a range of assessments, including student tests, classroom observations or student interviews.”
The funding is available throughout the 2021 school year to support tutoring of groups of up to five; it is expected to reach 290,000 students and involve thousands of staff in both primary and secondary schools. But more detail is needed. “We need clarity about pay rates for tutors, and a clear understanding of how funds will be allocated,” Northam said.
So, who will do the tutoring? Again, teachers are crucial. “The union believes priority for tutoring work should be given to casual teachers who are already known to a school and its students, or current part-time teachers who are seeking more hours,” Northam said. “Existing enterprise agreements should apply.”
The experts weigh in on this too. “Rigorous selection of tutors and good training for them will be key … a big workforce is being recruited fast with tight constraints on who can apply,” write Sonnemann and Hunter.
Northam again emphasises the role of teachers: “There should be close collaboration between the classroom teacher and the tutor and release time should be provided to the class teacher to allow for this,” Northam said.
The Grattan Institute specialists back this up, too. “Teachers are likely to be swamped this year, and education departments should provide extra support to help teachers guide tutors as needed,” they write.
While most of the $337 million will go to government schools, about $31 million will be allocated to non-government schools with the greatest levels of need. This means about 252 Catholic systemic schools (or 45 percent of Catholic systemic schools in NSW) will receive about $20 million between them. To be eligible, a school needs to have more than 15 percent of its students in the lowest socio-economic quartile.
“The IEU supports this program and would like to see more detail to ensure the funding goes where it is intended – strong support for disadvantaged students,” Northam said.