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Small Groups, Big Gains?

You’ve done your pupil progress meetings, identified the children who need additional support to achieve their best. You’ve meticulously and rigorously analysed the data, in conjunction with teacher assessments, and created the higher ability reading intervention group, the low prior attaining maths intervention group, and the intervention group to get those children finally using complex sentences in their writing. The Teaching Assistants have been briefed, trained and your teachers have planned the activities for each group. You’ve done all you can to prepare. Come to the end of these interventions: how do you know what the impact has been? Perhaps a TA has been running it, or a teacher, or a member of SLT: our biggest (and most expensive) assets. But how do we really know that this intervention has had an impact, and does this impact outstrip the benefit they would have had having stayed in class and experienced Quality First Teaching?

The EEF defines ‘small group tuition as an adult working with a small group of children (2-5) in a separate working area, away from the classroom'. Traditionally this teaching strategy has been used to support low attainers to catch up or fill gaps in their knowledge which are prohibiting accelerated progress. It is important to remember that this can also be used to push on higher ability children to provide them with additional challenges or skills.

In preparing these intervention groups, do we plan for baseline assessments and then monitor and assess the impact of the work we do with these pupils? Not nearly enough, I would argue.


The research tells us that:

  1. The smaller the group the better. Above 5, the impact reduces significantly.
  2. It is important to evaluate the effectiveness of different arrangements, as the specific subject matter being taught, and the composition of the groups may influence outcomes – how do we currently do this?
  3. There is a significant amount of evidence to support the idea that low attaining pupils benefit from this teaching strategy in order to help them catch up with their peers.
  4. There is limited evidence about the impact of small group interventions for higher ability children. This does not mean this strategy is ineffective, rather that further research is needed to determine it’s effectiveness.
To consider:
  1. Is there a clear focus for each group?
  2. Have we limited the group sizes to 4-5 children?
  3. How are you taking a baseline reading of the children’s attainment at the start of the intervention? How will you assess the impact and track progress which is made at the end of the intervention?
  4. Small group tuition is most likely to be effective if it is targeted at pupils’ specific needs. How will you assess pupils’ needs accurately before adopting a new approach?
  5. Have staff delivered the interventions been supported to deliver them effectively?

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Small-Group Tuition accessed 16th December 2019