Online surveys help tutors boost student attendance

The surveys were one of three strategies tested to find out if ‘light-touch’ interventions can have a positive effect on pupil attendance at tutor sessions

A new report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests that tutor session attendance can be boosted by encouraging tutors and pupils to find out what they have in common by taking online surveys.

Four of the organisation’s 33 tuition partners took part in the ‘snap survey’ trial. The trial involved pupils and tutors answering quick-fire questions about their personal interests, hobbies, and values.

For example, one question asked participants to choose from a list of major sporting events which one they’d most like to attend. Another asked whether laughter, loyalty or listening is most important for a friendship.

Once completed, both tutors and pupils received feedback on their similarities. Tutors also received reminders of their similarities with their pupils for the next five weeks, including some suggested conversation prompts.

Tutors also used teaching strategies that incorporated their pupils’ interests to help to build a positive relationship.

The evaluation found that pupils randomly selected to receive the snap survey had higher attendance rates than pupils in the ‘business as usual’ control group – where tuition partners used their usual strategies to encourage attendance.

The trial was delivered at a time when attendance in English schools were affected by partial school closures and pupil and staff absences as a result of Covid-19. Data from the Department for Education shows school attendance was 58% for the spring term of 2021.

This strategy was one of three tested by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) during the delivery of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) Tuition Partners pillar in the spring and summer term of 2021.

The other two strategies tested were:

  • Engagement-Boosting Reminders, where behaviourally informed reminder messages were sent directly to pupils via email.
  • Prioritising Tutoring Relationships, where tutors completed a short web-based activity focused on relationship-building strategies that could be used with pupils. Tutors also received reminders about the personal strategy they developed in the activity.

These two strategies performed no better or worse than the strategies used in the ‘business as usual’ control groups.

The trials were designed to assess the effectiveness of the three different strategies, and not the overall attendance rate of the NTP. To do this, the EEF developed an outcome measure that divided the number of session hours attended by the number of sessions purchased for that pupil. On this measure, the ‘snap survey’ approach increased attendance at sessions from 62% to 66%.

David Halpern, CEO of the BIT, said: “These rapid BIT-EEF trials show how ‘marginal gains’ can be layered on top of existing interventions. This enables programmes to be enhanced, rapidly but systematically identifying which variations work more effectively, and which work no better than usual.

“Policymakers and practitioners often presume that robust trials take years to set up and get results from. These trials show that this presumption is not true, opening the door to more accelerated improvements in outcomes for our children.”

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