Online peer tuition as a transition intervention for schools


The transition from primary to secondary school in the UK, and its equivalent elsewhere, has been depicted as ‘one of the most difficult phases in pupils educational careers’ (West, Sweeting, & Young, 2010). There is almost a universal agreement in the evidence that the majority of pupils express some anxieties and concerns prior to the transition from a primary to secondary school, with issues ranging from the size of the school to peer relations  (Chedzoy & Burden, 2005; Graham & Hill, 2003; Shepherd & Roker, 2005). A long term longitudinal study investigating pupils experiences of the primary-secondary school transition in the West of Scotland clearly demonstrated the importance of a successful transition on later well-being and attainment (West et al., 2010). The study found at age 15, a poorer school transition predicted higher levels of depression and lower attainment; with similar results extended to the outcomes at the age of 18/19.

The evidence of the impact of peer tuition as an effective strategy is highlighted as part of the teaching and learning toolkit developed by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). The benefits are apparent for both the tutor and tutee, particularly cross-age peer tuition.  However, it is often not feasible for schools to deliver cross-age peer tuition as a transition strategy between different phases of schools, such as primary into secondary. Through advances in technology, it is now possible to combine cross-age peer tutoring with synchronous online learning to develop a practical intervention for schools.

A recent feasibility study involved 4 schools in the North East of England, with Year 7 pupils peer tutoring Year 5 pupils online in mental arithmetic strategies. Further information on this trial can be found here.Click here.

The research was successful in demonstrating the feasibility of online cross-age peer tuition as a transition strategy, with a number of themes emerging from the process evaluation interviews and focus groups with teachers, peer tutors and tutees. These included overcoming logistical barriers and familiarity with online communication for peer tutors and tutees.

As part of a PhD at Durham University, I am developing an aggregated trials model and cumulative meta-analysis for online learning. In simple terms, I am piloting an online peer tuition programme and repeating this with numerous schools (cohorts) to pool the results together. The study involves Year 8 pupils peer tutoring Year 6 pupils online in mastery mathematics skills (data handling). As the trial uses the same protocol, resources, assessments and design I hope to aggregate these results together similar to many examples in medical trials. This prospective take on aggregating small school led trials will allow an evidence base of interventions delivered in schools, using robust trial designs.

Figure 1: Aggregated trial using multiple data collection in schools

While I complete my PhD, I hope to write about research design and methods to support teachers become more critical in reading research. I cannot stress how important this knowledge can be, as I spent many hours implementing strategies in schools based on very little or non-existent evidence. Since completing an MA in Research Methods in Education at Durham last year, I now realise the importance of critically evaluating evidence and the limitations of different research designs. I hope the following blogs are useful, as part of my role of a Microsoft Innovative Expert (MIE) I will be designing and delivering online training for teachers to help you ask the questions I failed to ask as a teacher.


Chedzoy, S.M., & Burden, R. L. (2005). Assessing student attitudes to primary–secondary school transfer. Research in Education, 74, 22–35.

Education Endowment Foundation. (2015). EEF. Retrieved November 24, 2015, from

Graham, C., & Hill, M. (2003). Negotiating the transition to secondary school. (Spotlight ). The SCRE Centre, University of Glasgow.

Shepherd, J., & Roker, D. (2005). An evaluation of a “transition to secondary school” project run by the National Pyramid Trust. Brighton: Trust for the Study of Adolescence.

West, P., Sweeting, H., & Young, R. (2010). Transition matters: pupils’ experiences of the primary-secondary school transition in the West of Scotland and consequences for well-being and attainment. Research Papers in Education (Vol. 25).






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