By Jason Rose 

Many people assume that tutors do not work over half-terms because children are not in school. In fact, we use a lot of this time to catch up on planning and to discuss our experiences with each other - something that is notoriously difficult to do during a busy term-time. This is even more difficult for Alternative Provision and Looked After Children (AP/LAC) tutors, since the experiences we have in sessions can differ greatly from those you would expect to have in a mainstream school setting. This half-term, we put a morning aside to meet with everyone involved in the tuition of Alternative Provision and Looked After Children in order to share our experiences and tips, and learn more about Tutor Trust’s successful partnership with The Right Angle Project.

Why is our work different?

One of the first points of discussion was something that is commonly asked in training: what makes AP/LAC tuition different from regular Primary and Secondary school tuition? Well, I think you’ll be surprised with the answers. Many people associate AP work with bad behaviour and a tirade of verbal abuse, but the combined experiences of our full-time tutors suggest that this is not the case. Usually, the idea that everyone in Alternative Provision is poorly behaved is based on memories of poorly behaved children who were excluded from our own schools. Remembering this, it is easy to assume that every child in Alternative Provision has similar behaviour issues. In reality, students enter Alternative Provision for a variety of reasons, some of which have been outlined below:

Reasons children may end up in Alternative Provision:

  • Medical concerns
  • Difficulties with identity
  • Being bullied
  • Difficulties in home/personal lives
  • Disruptive behaviour
  • Lack of confidence/fear of school

One parallel that can be drawn from all these reasons is that an alternative setting, such as a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), meets the child’s needs better than mainstream education at the time of referral. This does not necessarily mean that these children will never return to mainstream education, or that they will need to have behavioural issues ‘ironed out’ whilst in Alternative Provision. Some students you will encounter in AP/LAC settings will be happy and respectful, and almost all of them will have an interesting story to tell.

In order to demystify some of the stigma surrounding AP/LAC work, we also took some time to consider the positives of working in these settings. All of the tutors present agreed that AP/LAC can be the most rewarding aspect of tuition when approached correctly – below are some of the reasons why:

  • You will meet some huge personalities on AP/LAC assignments – these will likely be some of your most memorable tuition sessions!
  • Achievement can often be measured relatively rather than with target grades. If you disagree with pressure to achieve in schools, this work is likely for you!
  • Many of the children you work with will have chaotic lives, so the consistency you provide will be greatly appreciated.

 

How do we build (and maintain) relationships and engagement?

The first step to maintaining high levels of engagement is to build a healthy relationship with the students you work with. This is especially important with AP/LAC work as some of the students you work with may distrust various figures in their lives; making a good first impression is an essential part of laying a good foundation for a productive relationship.

The tutors who attended our meeting had a range of strategies for developing relationships, but the overarching message was to find common ground and take a genuine interest in the student’s hobbies/interests. Do you play the same video games as them? Tell them! Are they raving about music you know next to nothing about? Ask them! Showing interest in this way helps to break down barriers and establish a student-tutor relationship which will be slightly more relaxed than what students expect to encounter in a classroom. It is also important that we show a sustained interest in the student’s hobbies rather than just asking about it in the first session. This isn’t just box ticking – a healthy, productive relationship needs to be maintained so your students can gain as much as possible from their sessions!

Keeping your students engaged in sessions can be a challenge for all of us – especially if your students are having a bad day and do not wish to engage with the tasks you set. Although this can be demoralising when you spent the last evening planning, it is by no means unusual to encounter this situation in sessions (especially since the advent of smartphones!). Our discussions in the meeting revealed that all of the full-time tutors find engagement challenging from time to time, so having one or two difficult sessions does not reflect on your ability as a tutor. What matters most is how you try to overcome these difficulties and regain a student’s attention after realising they are disengaged. Below are some tips we shared as part of this discussion:

  • Approach these issues with good humour to avoid escalating the situation by confronting the student.
  • Accept that a student’s phone may be the most important thing in the room for them and make allowances for this (e.g. 15 mins of work to earn a 5 minute phone break*). It is also worth noting that some AP/LAC children need to contact people regularly for various reasons.
  • Ask the student what they want to do – sometimes you may just need to switch the order of your lessons (e.g. do English instead of maths) to restore engagement.
  • Have a discussion! If a student won’t put pen to paper, you can often trick them into doing some work by talking over the topic.

*It’s best to approach agreements like this on a case-by-case basis. Whilst half a session of work is better than no work, make sure you don’t set standards too low for students who do not have as many engagement problems.

What is The Right Angle Project?

Most AP/LAC tutors will know of Tutor Trust’s ongoing relationship with The Right Angle Project. This exciting project involves pairing 12 hours of our high-quality English and Maths tutoring with up to 10 hours of counselling provided by our partners at TLC: Talk, Listen, Change. We use start and endpoint tests on a platform called Learning by Questions (LbQ) to monitor the academic progress of our students, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive so far!

However, because the tutoring and counselling are provided separately, it is difficult to see the bigger picture of your work as a tutor on Right Angle assignments. In order to solve this, we were given a presentation from Emma Jones-Holding, Head of Counselling, who works on The Right Angle. During the talk, we were told about how children are referred for counselling and how engagement has shifted now that many of the sessions are done over the phone (similar to our online tuition). We were also encouraged to discuss the counselling if brought up by the students and respond to any feedback about the counselling positively so students are likely to continue attending.

Please join us next time!

As a full-time tutor, I found our AP/LAC conference incredibly engaging as well as being a great way to get to know members of the team in a less formal setting! We also had fun with some games to wake us up at the beginning and short, competitive quizzes to see how much of the information we had taken in throughout the conference.

If you work on any of our AP/LAC assignments (or are considering doing so in the future), I highly recommend you join our next conference to share your experiences or questions!

Alternative Provision and Looked After Children Keywords:

Mainstream – The standard school progression for children in the UK. Children may be removed from, or returned to, mainstream depending on which setting best meets their needs.

Alternative Provision (AP) – Children are placed in Alternative Provision if mainstream education is not meeting their needs. This can happen for a variety of reasons, all listed above.

Looked After Child – A child who has been in the care of the local authority for more than 24 hours. They may live with extended family, family friends or foster parents/carers. Some Looked After Children even live with parents under the supervision of the local authority. Looked After Children are not necessarily in Alternative Provision!

Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) – A PRU is a special type of school for students whose needs are not met in mainstream. Children in PRUs are classed as being in Alternative Provision.

Virtual School – A ‘school’ which enrols all children looked after by the local authority. Children attending virtual schools will also attend another school or PRU. Surprisingly, this term predates COVID-19!

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