The senior tutor of Greene’s Tutorial College in Oxford, Matthew Uffindell, explains why he thinks the tutorial method, taught at Greene’s for over 50 years, benefits students in the time of a pandemic, now more than ever
Governments over centuries have made legislative changes that have dramatically altered the course of education, but arguably we have seen no rethinking of the old educational model as striking as this is in 2020. The disruption to all our lives from the spread of COVID-19 has been immense, but students and parents feel the worry about the future with a particular intensity. Many of the questions about choice and direction remain the same, however the path is far less certain. The problems keeping parents up at night are what the best steps are for their children embarking on GCSE and A-levels, and how can the choices made be ‘future-proofed’, so money spent on education, whether at school or university, actually has value?
The key factors required of any educational institution to respond to during times of uncertainty are quality, flexibility and creativity. Thinking, when the pandemic abates, we will simply return to the education of the past, is probably not the answer. So, what do we do? It is clear that many schools and colleges have already been experimenting with the new models – and Greene’s has shown itself to offer a way forward.
While we are all thinking how the world of education can reinvent schools for ‘the new normal’, Greene’s is already employing the template for a future model: a blended mix of face-to-face and online learning. It was interesting that, within a day or two of having to close our 17th-century premises in central Oxford, we were able to switch from a mixture of online and in-person teaching, to 100 per cent online tuition. Naturally, good technical solutions are essential, and for over 15 years Greene’s has developed its own software; wherever students are in the world, they can seamlessly engage in their studies and check their progress. The result of this was that, when the lockdown came, our students continued as before, with very little academic disruption. Astonishingly only two or three tutorials, out of the many hundreds our tutors delivered at the time, were actually missed because of this changeover.
Flexibility is crucial to engaging students and accommodating their interests. We all recognise that some students cannot easily be slotted into a timetable; some will want a high degree of flexibility with difficult choices of subject, while others may need to restart or retake an academic programme. Some students need an accelerated course to meet their specific aims, while others must spend time consolidating their work. Some want a more traditional sixth-form, while others, such as gap year students, are much happier with the freedom of a managed academic plan, with just the support of a personal mentor. Greene’s can deliver all these different approaches, with its individualised programmes, and a tutorial method, which inculcates independence, initiative and critical thinking.
Our student-centred approach has been much praised by our regulating body, ISI (the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate). In the latest report, November 2019, the inspectors remarked, ‘The quality of the curriculum, teaching and learners’ achievements, is excellent.’
We are Oxford’s oldest tutorial college and are proud to be a small, independently run establishment – and have remained so for over 50 years. In the words of one of our former students: ‘A Greene’s tutorial style of education is amazing: it is the greatest gift an educational establishment can give you.’