Richard Brabner from the UPP Foundation with Dr Anne-Marie Sim, Beth Brooks and University of Exeter student tutors

An innovative tutoring programme which links university students, pupils and teachers to transform young lives is expanding across England.

The University of Exeter Tutoring Model is provided free to schools for pupils aged 12 and 13. Following a successful pilot in Devon it will now be offered across the South West, West and the North East.

The tutoring was developed by experts at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Social Mobility and the former head teacher at St James School in Exeter, Lindsay Skinner, and forms part of the work of the University of Exeter’s South-West Social Mobility Commission.

Undergraduate tutors deliver the programme in schools to small groups of Year 8 students to help them improve their literacy skills. The tutors themselves also gain invaluable skills and experience within their community, either gaining credits towards their degree or being paid for their time.

Evidence shows that high quality one-to-one or small group tutoring is one of the best ways for improving pupil progress, particularly those from under-resourced backgrounds. Initial findings from a pilot of the nine-week course carried out in Exeter showed it helped children make strong improvements in their literacy, developing their written work to ensure that they gain the foundational skills to flourish in all subjects at secondary school. 

The benefits of deploying undergraduates as tutors has been recognised by national politicians across the political divide. Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson has called University led tutoring a ‘win win’ approach, while Higher Education Minister, Robert Halfon, has said tutoring should be a key component of the government’s catch-up strategy.

Collaboration with Exeter’s local Uni Connect Partnership Next Steps South West, during last year’s pilot stage has led to a further expansion of the programme, under the new Office for Students’ (OfS) pre-16 attainment-raising agenda. It is now being scaled up though wider collaboration with three Uni Connect Partnerships: Next Steps South West, North East Uni Connect Programme, GROWS and: the University of Plymouth.

During 2024, the programme will be delivered to a maximum of 500 pupils in schools across England. In the South-West peninsula, the University of Exeter, the University of Plymouth and Next Steps South West are targeting approximately 200 pupils in 20 schools across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. In the North East, a maximum of 25 target schools will be invited to participate in the programme reaching up to 300 pupils. Approximately 100 tutors will be recruited from the partner universities.

Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “This is a ‘win win win’ scheme: extra high-quality tutoring support is provided free of charge to schools to improve pupils’ basic writing, while undergrads earn degree credits and consider a career in teaching. Expanding this across the country would be an easy win for any government looking to address the stark achievement gaps that continue to scar the education system. As well as being impactful, this initiative is low cost and can be scaled up around the country.

“I believe every undergraduate should have the opportunity to give back to society in some way as part of their university education, with tutoring one option among many others.”

Dr Anne-Marie Sim, from the University of Exeter, said: “We have developed the Exeter Tutoring Model so it can be embedded within the country’s education system for the long term. For universities, the model enables them to support their local communities – building meaningful relationships with schools and between their students and young people in nearby communities.”

Charlotte True, Manager Next Steps South West, said “Our work is all about collaboration, so that we can offer equity and the best opportunities to under-resourced pupils. We have worked with the University of Exeter to support the development of this programme and are delighted to have played a part in creating a multi-stakeholder project.”

Kate Murray, Head of Collaborative Partnerships at Newcastle University said: “Progression and attainment gaps in areas of the North East remain amongst the highest in the country.  Evaluation of the work of the North East Uni Connect Programme has shown that positive progress is being made in supporting young people in the region with their higher education goals.  We hope that partnering with the University of Exeter on the literacy programme will allow young people in the North East to benefit from quality tutoring support to further enhance their chances of success.”

The work in Exeter to develop and pilot the Exeter Tutoring Model has been funded by a coalition of funders including Fiona Forbes, Tim Wilkinson, the Cobalt Trust, UPP Foundation and the University of Exeter’s Policy Support Fund and the OfS funded, Uni Connect programme.