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How can edtech play a valuable role in supporting the most vulnerable students?

Edtech and pupil premium: how schools can keep kids from falling through the cracks

James Grant, managing director, schools, at MyTutor, discusses how using pupil premium funding for edtech can help the most vulnerable students

In a recent episode of Dispatches, Channel 4 highlighted one of the most significant issues facing the education sector today. ‘Off-rolling’, or the act of removing a child from school rolls if they have become too difficult or disruptive to teach, has been singled out by the Children’s Commissioner as a key factor in pupils falling through the cracks.

Often, when presented with behavioural and development issues like these, the onus can be on teachers to create new lesson plans or provide highly personalised support for disadvantaged students, heavily increasing workload. However, schools today have more access to technology than ever before, and while this isn’t a silver bullet, it can certainly empower teachers to introduce new strategies for supporting their pupils without overburdening staff.

No teacher or school wants to be in a position where behavioural problems mean they can’t continue teaching a student. Educators want to be able to give less engaged students the individual support they need, while also providing the rest of their pupils with comprehensive and well-rounded learning, but given the time pressure they face this is not always a possibility. 

Vulnerable students, difficult situations

When off-rolling first came to light it became clear that the pupils most at risk were also the most vulnerable, particularly those with special educational needs or disabilities.

Compounding this, recent research has found that funding specialised SEND support in classrooms is becoming more challenging, meaning one-to-one learning is increasingly out of reach for the students who need it most. 

By choosing technological solutions, schools are able to use their pupil premium funding for the benefit of a bigger proportion of vulnerable students than would be possible with a single TA

Barring a massive cash injection or huge wave of new recruitment, the concern for schools is that they will continue having to cut classroom SEND support. As well as a number of other issues, this means fewer opportunities for SEND students to access one-to-one learning, and a continued risk of them being left behind.

Bridging the funding gap

In our experience teachers and school leaders are enthusiastic about bringing in new solutions if it means boosting the potential of their most vulnerable students, and pupil premium is the first port of call, often in the form of teaching assistants or physical, in-classroom resources. However, some schools have chosen a different route, by opting to use their pupil premium funding for technology, specifically in the form of online one-to-one learning.

By doing this, these schools are able to use their pupil premium funding for the benefit of a bigger proportion of vulnerable students than would be possible with a single TA, or other non-edtech options. Online learning can enable an entire class to receive live, one-to-one, individual teaching from subject specialists that have been handpicked for them, all within the same lesson. This allows teachers to better balance their workload between students, while spreading the cost more effectively than would been possible before.  

An online solution also means that one-to-one learning can happen in school or at home, wherever works best for the student. As well as this, using online tutoring can provide students with a mentor, facilitating peer relationships built on trust and support. By using pupil premium in this way, students can be caught before they fall through the net, and get a chance to interact with inspirational tutors that can also act as role models, as tutors are currently studying at leading universities.

Long-term solutions, not sticking plasters

It goes without saying that all teachers want to provide each student in their class with all the one-to-one time they need to reach their full potential. However, considering the current landscape of rising class sizes and increasing workload this is becoming a logistical impossibility. 

This leaves teachers and schools in a position where they are unable to provide pupils the time or support they need to become confident and effective learners. What is needed is a release valve, and this is where education technology can play a valuable role.

Find out more about MyTutor on their website.