Pupil Premium tutoring: A Champion for Every Child

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
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A Champion for Every Child is a pastoral tutoring programme that has had a notable impact for thousands of Pupil Premium pupils across the Kemnal Academies Trust. Emma Lee-Potter finds out more

The idea behind the ACE programme is simple. This pioneering initiative, developed by the Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), a multi-academy trust in the south and east of England, offers one-to-one pastoral tutoring to thousands of Pupil Premium children.

ACE stands for A Champion for Every Child and its aim is to help disadvantaged pupils to make progress academically and in their social and emotional development.

Children taking part in the programme meet individually with an assigned tutor once or twice a week. The vision is that the tutors will get the children ready to learn, close learning gaps, and improve their outcomes and life chances.

Dr Karen Roberts, TKAT’s CEO, came up with the idea for the programme and the trust began trialling it in seven schools (three secondary, two special and two primary schools) in 2020. During the current academic year all 45 of the trust’s schools are running pilots with 20% of their Pupil Premium children and by September this year, 5,500 pupils and 275 tutors will be involved. Indeed, these tutors have already given their advice on effective tutoring practice in a previous article in given their advice on effective tutoring practice in a previous article in SecEd (2022) (2022).

“The ACE programme is not complicated,” explained David Linsell, TKAT’s director of local governance, secondary curriculum and ACE. An experienced headteacher, he was head of Ratton School in Eastbourne for 13 years and joined TKAT in 2014.

“It provides a child with a one-to-one tutor who meets regularly with that child and their family and supports the child to overcome barriers. In contrast to the National Tutoring Programme, which we ran here as well, it is essentially a pastoral programme about getting children ready to learn. Academic tutoring has its place, but ACE is very different.”

Tutors not teachers

The programme is delivered by tutors who have been trained in providing support to potentially vulnerable pupils. Class teachers provide regular oversight and input, but the emphasis is on tutors identifying barriers to attainment, identifying the causes of those barriers, and helping pupils to overcome them.

The tutors’ training includes an hour’s introduction to the programme, 10 hours of specialist training and group supervision sessions six times a year.

During training sessions Mr Linsell encourages tutors to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to assess the needs of each child. “The tutor takes the child through the stages to establish where their needs are,” he said. “They’ll start by checking the lower levels – the child’s physiological and psychological needs. Children cannot be ready to learn until they are operating above these levels.

“Some children are likely to have their lower levels met but their needs and barriers will classically be around self-actualisation, esteem and goal-setting. They may or may not have aspirations, so it’s a case of working with the children to get them into an aspirational place and thinking about what they have to do to meet their aspirations.”


TKAT schools use RAG-rating to assess children’s needs and decide how often they should meet with their ACE tutors. The most-in-need children – the red children – might see their tutors twice a week whereas for an amber child it might be once a week, and a green child once a fortnight.

The ACE team learned a host of useful lessons from the first pilot, much of which took place during the early months of the pandemic. For instance, tutors are now specifically trained to ensure that they do not create a dependency culture.

“One of the reasons that pastoral programmes have failed in the past is because when support is taken away the child fails,” explained Mr Linsell. He describes the ACE programme as more of “a grow coaching type model”, where tutors support, assist and help children to believe in themselves.

ACE is funded through schools’ Pupil Premium budget (the programme costs between a third and a half of a school’s Pupil Premium allocation or £350 a year per Pupil Premium child) but it has already had a significant impact.

Positive impact

An independent evaluation conducted by ImpactEd (2021) reported “significant improvements” in pupils’ levels of “goal orientation, self-efficacy and motivation”. Key success factors included the programme’s personalised, one-to-one nature, the availability of support networks for tutors, and the quality of training.

Participating secondary schools have seen a host of positive developments, from improvements in attendance and behaviour to increased motivation and confidence.

“The programme’s simplicity and power made us believe in it right from the start but what has been a surprise is the diverse range of unintended positive outcomes,” said Mr Linsell.

Attendance at Rainham School for Girls in Gillingham improved significantly after the school assigned ACE tutors to disadvantaged students. Within two months the attendance of year 8 Pupil Premium pupils rose from 80% to 98% and is now a percentage point higher than their non-disadvantaged peers.

“Those children are better attenders now than other children,” said Mr Linsell. “It’s not rocket science. If somebody shows an interest in you on a regular basis, you are going to go to school for that person.”

Meanwhile, a secondary special school discovered that its careers provision was not meeting pupils’ aspirational needs. Staff immediately introduced changes to the curriculum, such as giving students entrepreneurial opportunities within the school.

TKAT has also worked with Poverty Proofing, a North East charity that aims to develop equity of opportunity and experience for pupils. As a consequence, a secondary school involved in the ACE pilot developed “a much greater sensitivity and awareness around the financial pressures that children and their families are put under”.

The ACE tutors

Many ACE tutors come from a teaching assistant or pastoral background. Two-thirds have been redeployed from their existing roles within schools, while a third have been recruited specifically for the programme.

Sue Lambourne, a full-time ACE tutor at Chichester High School, is a former assistant headteacher at the school and now mentors 40 students in years 7, 8 and 11.

Ms Lambourne meets each one face-to-face for 15 to 20 minutes every week. She also corresponds with them via the classroom management tool Class Charts and some pop into her office for chats in-between sessions. During meetings she discusses attendance and behaviour, revisits targets set the week before, focuses on what has gone well during the week, and looks at any barriers to learning.

“Whatever the barrier is we’ll talk it through and help them to manage it,” she said. “At the end of each session I’ll summarise and set targets for the coming week.”

She keeps in regular contact with students’ parents, texting them on her work mobile phone every week and ringing to check how everything is going.

“The response from parents has been so positive,” she said. “If they’ve got a concern, they know that we’ll get back to them almost immediately.

“What we are seeing as a school is that attendance and behaviour have definitely improved but the students overwhelmingly said that their motivation and organisation had increased. They like the fact that they get support with their subjects and that there is someone to talk to. It’s early days but we’re hoping that their outcomes are going to be in line with or better than the non-Pupil Premium students.”

Staff at Chichester High hope that by the end of the spring term up to 75% of the 350 Pupil Premium students will have an ACE tutor.

“It’s an amazing programme,” said Ms Lambourne. “I feel privileged to be working with these young people. To be an advocate for them and help them move forward in life and succeed is fantastic.”

At Debden Park High School in Essex, lead ACE tutor Robyn Buisson and her team of three tutors run a slightly different ACE model. They provide an optional breakfast club twice a week and compulsory after-school sessions twice a week for 125 Pupil Premium students in years 7, 8 and 9.

At breakfast club the pupils can have breakfast, reflect on the previous day and check they have all the equipment they need for the day ahead. The hour-long after-school sessions might include maths bingo to practise their times tables, ice breakers, story writing and activities to boost confidence and self-esteem. The ACE tutors also see students individually when needed.

“It’s lovely seeing the students progress academically but the most rewarding thing is to see them progress socially,” said Ms Buisson, who is also the school’s pastoral manager and director of year 7. “Children who struggle with issues like friendships or attendance know that they have got that one person they can come to for help.”

A model programme

Mr Linsell is convinced that every child in the country would benefit from this kind of programme.

He explained: “It’s a model that could be really useful nationwide – a one-to-one relationship with someone who is showing an interest in you and is championing you and helping you to overcome barriers.

“At the moment we are focusing on Pupil Premium children but it’s something that we’d eventually like to do for all children. We know that it works in any school, whether it’s a primary school of 100 children or a secondary school of 1,700 children.”

Tips for creating a one-to-one mentoring programme

  • Appoint a senior leader to run the programme.
  • Make sure the whole school understands the programme and is committed to it. Tutors should not feel they are working in isolation.
  • Keep the programme simple and effective.
  • Keep up-to-date with safeguarding.
  • Communicate effectively with existing pastoral support teams within the school.
  • Don’t give tutors too many pupils.
  • Make sure that tutors listen to pupils carefully.
  • Encourage tutors to keep in regular contact with parents and build a good relationship with them.
  • Students and parents are often used to negative phone calls so ensure you focus on the positives with parents.
  • Encourage tutors to check in with children throughout the week. Regular check-ins help tutors to become more aware of children’s needs and build a better relationship with them.

For more dos and don’ts from the ACE tutors and programme leads, see see SecEd’s previous article – Tutoring: Dos and don’ts (2022).

Find out more

The lessons learned from the TKAT ACE programme will be presented during a workshop at the 14th National Pupil Premium Conference, which is due to take place in Birmingham on March 18.

At the event, David Linsell, director of TKAT ACE, Jo McKeown, headteacher at Chichester High School, and Kate Couldwell, headteacher at Front Lawn Primary Academy, will discuss the project and why it has been successful.

The session is entitled A Champion for Every Child: Pastoral tutoring to support the motivation, self-efficacy, and progress of Pupil Premium students, and is one of 18 sessions taking place at the event.

Further information & resources


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