Online cross-age peer tuition across school transition boundary between primary and secondary schools for more able and talented mathematics students

Durham-University                ESRC             logo


The transition from primary to secondary school in the UK, and its equivalent has been depicted as one of the most difficult phases in pupils’ educational careers (West et al, 2010). In a recent Ofsted publication, Key Stage 3: The lost years, the area of transition between primary and secondary was highlighted as an area for improvement. The report found that leaders often prioritise the pastoral over the academic needs of pupils during transition from primary school. Whilst this affects all pupils, it can have a particularly detrimental effect on the progress and engagement of the most able (Ofsted, 2015).

After discussions with schools following the successful feasibility study to implement an online cross-age peer programme in mental arithmetic for pupils working below expected progress (Harrison, 2015), a programme was designed with schools to tackle this issue. The sample involved two secondary schools and three primary schools in Durham and Derby, with 28 Year 8 pupils (most able mathematicians) peer tutoring 48 Year 6 pupils in data handling (pie chart problems, correlations, line graphs and types of data). The Year 8 tutors completed training on how to use the Tute platform in week 1 and then delivered 5 weeks of 30 minute online lessons to Year 6 pupils. The Year 6 pupils were allocated into groups 1:1, 1:2 and 1:4 using blocked randomisation based on pre-test performance, as the overall purpose of the study is to determine if small group learning (1:2 and 1:4) can be as effective as 1:1. If this can be proven, it will provide secondary schools with the opportunity to deploy small groups of peer tutors to deliver online transition interventions.

The trial used a randomised control design with an active control (1:1 group), ensuring all pupils received the intervention using the online Tute platform as the virtual classroom. However, due to an unseen technical issue with firewall permissions with one school partnership the trial was postponed until January 2016. Therefore, 7 Year 8 and 12 Year 6 pupils completed both the pre-test and then the post-assessment as planned without completing the peer tuition, enabling a retrospective control group to the study.

 Data analysis

As part of a wider research project to develop a prospective meta-analysis, the full analysis will involve a linear mixed effects model fit by REML (Restricted Maximum Likehood). Schools will be random effects with pre- and post-tests as fixed in the model. However, as the sample is small the descriptive statistics are included below. As part of an ESRC funded PhD at Durham University, the trial will be repeated across numerous schools with the results accumulating to allow for a sufficient sample to allow generalisations.


Pre and post assessment data Year 8 pupils                                           

  Pre-test mean score Pre-test Standard deviation Post-test mean score Pre-test Standard deviation
Peer tutors 12.05 3.46 15.33 2.03
Peer tutor (control)* 11.14 2.79 11.42 1.90


Pre and post assessment data Year 6 pupils

  Pre-test mean score Pre-test Standard deviation Post-test mean score Pre-test Standard deviation
Tutees 3.50 2.36 10.11 3.62
Tutees (control)* 2.50 2.24 3.92 2.87

* Retrospective control completing intervention in January 2016 due to firewall permission issues at the primary school.

It is important to acknowledge the limitation of sample size and the initial results should be treated with caution. However, the results compare favourably with the Education Endowment Foundation[5] evidence on the impact of peer tuition in schools as the benefits are apparent for both the tutor and tutee. The mean score for Year 8 peer tutors increased from 12.05 to 15.33, with the control mean scores 11.14 and 11.42. The Year 6 pupil data indicated an improvement from 3.50 to 10.11, compared to the control 2.50 and 3.92.

The results of the analysis for the group size effectiveness of 1:1, 1:2 and 1:4 will be published in the full study, including relevant effect sizes.

As part of the process evaluation, focus groups were conducted with all participating pupils and interviews completed with teachers and IT technicians. A thematic analysis will be undertaken using NVIVO to understand the key themes but here a few comments from the data:

“I enjoyed the peer tutoring as it helped me understand the concepts better, as I had to explain this is different ways to the Year 6 pupils so that they could understand” (Year 8 Peer tutor)

“It was really good learning from pupils in the secondary school, I did not understand correlation until they explained it to me in a way I understood” (Year 6 tutee)

“Usually with transition interventions, the logistics involved in moving pupils, the paper work, cost of transport and time means that we would not be able to use cross-age peer tuition as an intervention. Online learning means that these barriers are removed, ensuring the intervention becomes the focus, not the logistics” (Secondary school teacher)

“When the pupils were online, there was a buzz in the room with all the pupils engaged and on task the entire time” (Year 6 teacher)


Online cross-age peer tuition has the potential to provide a multi-dimensional transition intervention for schools, allowing both peer tutors and tutees the opportunity to develop academic attainment, self-concept, foster effective communication strategies and provide peer support in the transition between schools. In order to increase the sample size, the trial will be repeated across schools over the next 18 months as part of a PhD study at Durham University and aggregated through a prospective meta-analysis. Therefore, if your school is interested in becoming part of future cohorts for the Year 8 and Year 6 more able and talented transition intervention, please email

Please note, this report is only a brief outline of the research and the full publication will be released by peer review in academic journals. If further information is required on the trials, please email and I will happily discuss the research.


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

Key Stage 3: The Lost Years. Ofsted report (2015)

Harrison, W (2015). A Feasibility Study: Online cross-age peer tuition across the transition boundary between primary and secondary schools

EEF (2016)