Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, announced A$250 million on Wednesday for 4,100 tutors to be deployed across Victorian schools from the first term in 2021.
The vast majority of Victorian students spent much of terms two and three learning remotely — this is about half the school year. The government expects this money will support more than 200,000 students across the state who have been left behind during the remote learning period.
In announcing the package, the minister said about one in five students will need extra support. Our report (from the Grattan Institute) in June found a large cohort of disadvantaged students — especially those from the poorest families, with learning difficulties, or where languages other than English are spoken at home — will have fallen much further behind than their classmates during the school closures.
Our analysis shows disadvantaged students in Victoria are likely to have lost somewhere between two and six months of learning over the remote schooling period. The equity gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students grows at triple the rate during remote schooling.
These learning losses compound an existing equity problem in schools, and increase the risk of students disengaging.
The Victorian government’s funding is critical. Without it, schools would not have the resources needed to help students catch up. But the government needs to take several extra steps, including ensuring the quality of tutors, so this funding has its desired effect.
What’s in the package?
James Merlino’s promise to parents is: “If your child has fallen behind, we will bring them back up to speed”.
To bring these students up to speed, the package includes:
A$209.6 million for every government school (primary, secondary and specialist) to attract and employ 3,500 tutors across the 2021 school year, to deliver small group learning to students who need it
tutoring for small groups from one to five students
$30 million towards employing 600 tutors at non-government schools
$8.6 million towards schools working with families to lift student outcomes and re-engage students with learning.
The package not only benefits students, but also provides employment for young people and women who have been most impacted financially by the pandemic. The government estimates 80% of tutor roles will be filled by women.
Is it enough?
Tutoring is expensive, but can provide big benefits in quick time. Tutoring programs overseas have consistently proven beneficial, with some students gaining an additional three to five months of learning over just one to two terms of schooling.
If implemented well, this package would be enough to stem much of the predicted learning losses for disadvantaged students. But the Victorian government should take five extra steps to ensure it gets its money’s worth:
the initiative relies on teachers to correctly identify students who are struggling, and why. The government should ensure some of the money is spent on extra training for teachers who need it
successful tutoring depends on selecting high-quality, well-trained tutors. Schools can’t be expected to screen the quality of tutor recruits by themselves. The government should set the quality standards, and could commission a third party to ensure only the best tutors are hired
The government should give schools guidance on effective literacy and numeracy programs that involve small-group or one-on-one tuition. There are existing programs that, on evaluation, show they can have large impacts in specific areas such as maths, oral language skills or certain aspects of reading
the government should evaluate the impact of the catch-up tutoring to give insight on what works for a COVID response, but also to close the much larger existing equity gap for disadvantaged students long-term. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must not be missed
the government should require accountability from schools on how the extra funds are spent. For example, schools should be expected to invest in tutoring where it is relevant, or to explain the nature of investments in other initiatives which the school believes are needed.
Victoria’s plan to find high-quality tutors from existing retired, casual, or student teachers is a good start. But if it proves difficult to find enough quality candidates from this pool, other options should be considered. University graduates from all disciplines and teaching assistants can have large benefits, as well as large tutoring providers.
The UK’s new national tutoring scheme has a lot of quality assurance built into it. For example, schools can either choose to employ a tutor directly who has been trained and screened, or use a tutor from a “quality assured” tutoring provider. Financial incentives encourage schools to choose tutoring providers that have demonstrated high evaluation standards.
What about other states?
Although remote schooling did not last as long in the other states and the territories, disadvantaged students would still benefit from a similar package — just a smaller one to Victoria’s.
Extra support should be available so students across Australia don’t slip through the cracks. Victoria’s tutoring announcement this week should become a model for all Australian states and territories.