Fife Peer Learning Project
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Dundee
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
This study focuses on a large-scale trial of peer tutoring in reading and
mathematics in primary
schools. The underpinning theoretical model, the classroom techniques
employed and the
resources used were all designed or modified by Topping, supported by his
research team. The
trial took place over a two-year period, with 129 primary schools in Fife.
There is evidence of
impact in terms of enhanced pupil achievement in reading and
mathematics, changes to
educational policy as the tutoring techniques were built into the
local authority guidelines and
changes to practice as schools within Fife continue to employ peer
Internationally regarded research by Topping over many years (e.g.
Topping, 2001, 2005) has
increased understanding of peer tutoring, including psychological
processes and classroom
techniques. However, many studies in the field have tended to be
small-scale and typically focused
on cross-age tutoring, with little known about the relative effectiveness
of tutoring one or two
subjects. This case study specifically addressed these limitations.
Research and development work was undertaken in 2006-8, funded by an ESRC
Exchange Grant of £370,700 awarded to the Universities of Dundee (2/3) and
Durham (1/3) in
collaboration with Fife Council and led by Keith Topping (Professor of
Social Research at Dundee)
and Professor Peter Tymms (Durham). The Dundee team included Thurston and
senior lecturers at that time) who led on reading and maths respectively
and two research
assistants, responsible for tutoring implementation.
A two-year randomised controlled trial (RCT) was conducted for pupils
aged nine and twelve years
in reading and mathematics, in 129 primary schools in Fife. The specific
tutoring techniques used
with pupils were Paired Reading and Duolog Math. All participating
teachers were given initial
training and additional support upon request. A theoretical model of peer
tutoring, developed by
Topping, was used to guide on-going support given to teachers during the
effectiveness of the implementation process was an additional aspect of
the research. Evaluation
of outcomes included a variety of reading and mathematics tests and direct
observation of the
The research demonstrated that on long-term evaluation, cross-age
tutoring was significantly
better than regular teaching, but same-age tutoring was not. However on
pupils did significantly better than control pupils in both years, and
cross-age and same-age were
similarly effective. Pupils from low socio-economic background, with lower
reading ability and girls
did significantly better. Those who gave and received both reading and
maths tutoring showed
additional gains, suggesting an additive effect. Light tutoring (one
session per week) did as well as
intensive tutoring (three sessions per week) suggesting considerable
implications for cost-effectiveness.
Implementation was good in parts, but some important aspects of technique
rare. Significant gains in self-esteem were seen in same-age and cross-age
groups and for tutors
and tutees, but not for controls. In reading, gains were significantly
greater for those with mistakes
about every two minutes (not more or less) and those who stopped reading
to talk about every
In policy terms it is evident that cross-age peer tutoring in reading and
mathematics is effective in
the long term for both tutors and tutees. Schools can be recommended to
implement this as part
of their curriculum, particularly for pupils of low socio-economic status
and low ability. Same-age
tutoring showed short-term benefits but might be more risky, although
easier to implement.
In practice terms, in addition to the above, light tutoring can be
recommended. Teachers will wish
to manage self-esteem carefully in such projects. The additive effects of
reading plus maths
tutoring need to be balanced against the curriculum displacement cost of
References to the research
Outputs that preceded the RCT and that illustrate the quality of previous
work which informed the
design and processes of the RCT.
i. Topping, K. J. (2001). Thinking reading writing: A practical guide
to paired learning with
peers, parents & volunteers. New York & London: Continuum
ii. Topping, K. J. (2005). Trends in peer learning. Educational
Psychology, 25(6), 631-645.
(25th anniversary edition). Also in: K. Wheldall (Ed.) (2006) Developments
psychology: How far have we come in 25 years? London & New York:
Papers which further illustrate the quality of the research, and also
provide quantitative evidence of
impact on children's learning from the trial, include the following.
iii. Miller, D. J., Topping, K. J. & Thurston, A. (2010). Peer
tutoring in reading: The effects of
role and organization on two dimensions of self-esteem. British
Journal of Educational
Psychology, 80(3), 417-433.
iv. Topping, K. J., Miller, D. J., Murray, P., Henderson, S., Fortuna, C.
& Conlin, N. (2011).
Outcomes in a randomized controlled trial of mathematics tutoring. Educational
v. Tymms, P., Merrell, C., Thurston, A., Andor, J., Topping, K. J. &
Miller, D. J. (2011).
Improving attainment across a whole district: Peer tutoring in a
randomised controlled trial.
School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 22(3), 265-289.
vi. Topping, K. J., Thurston, A., McGavock, K. & Conlin, N. (2012).
Outcomes and process in
reading tutoring. Educational Research, 54(3), 239-258.
• The "Fife Peer Learning Project" was funded by the Economic and Social
and Fife Council under a Knowledge Exchange grant managed by the
Department of Trade
and Industry in the total amount of £370,700 (awarded 2/3 to Dundee and
1/3 to Durham) over
two years. The purpose of these KE grants is to transfer existing
knowledge into wider
implementation in community settings.
• Since the completion of the Fife Peer Learning Project, Topping has
been involved in three
other grant awards for projects which build upon this work. The first two
use adaptations of the
• One is a further RCT of peer tutoring in maths involving
487 pupils in 20 schools over
16 weeks led by Thurston and Topping but based at the University of Durham
Education Department (funding £65,000 from ESRC).
• A further, larger RCT has been funded by the Educational Endowment
the University of Durham to extend the work in peer tutoring in maths,
with 90 schools
over a period of 3-4 years (funding £750,000). There will be an emphasis
sustainability and roll-out to further schools in the longer term
Topping is a consultant for this project (the EEF does not
fund projects in Scotland).
• A third project, on peer coaching to enhance "Physical Activity and
Schools", is to operate in 60 secondary schools from the University of
is £462,746 from ESRC. Topping is chair of the Advisory Group. The project
Much of this work led to Topping receiving the "Outstanding Contribution
to Cooperative Learning
Award" from the American Educational Research Association in 2011.
Details of the impact
Learning outcomes from the project were evaluated in a variety of ways,
reading attainment tests, criterion-referenced tests of mathematical
problem solving, and
nationally-recognised PIPS assessments (Performance Indicators in Primary
Schools, University of
Durham Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring). In addition, self-esteem was
standardised instruments and implementation quality was investigated
through direct observation.
This comprehensive evaluation process provided clear evidence of the
impact of the intervention at
Impact at the classroom level: cognitive and non-cognitive gains for
primary school pupils
and improved knowledge and expertise for teachers [see Section 5
below, sources 1,4,7]
During the project, 129 schools, 324 class teachers and 8847 pupils
benefited from significant learning gains in reading (see paper [vi] in
section 3 above), in
mathematics (paper [iv] above) and in self-esteem (paper [iii] above).
Teachers were up-skilled in
terms of increased knowledge and confidence in the techniques. In relation
to continuity, since the
project ended, the local authority policy guidelines require that schools
continue to employ peer
tutoring techniques, in light of the research results. Results were
disseminated to schools,
principally in the form of a newsletter giving the basic details, although
the full papers are available
on request. Additional workshops and meetings have been held since the end
of the project, with
teachers and head-teachers of primary and secondary schools, to reinforce
the main findings and
encourage wider development of the study ideas. These have been informed
by lessons learned
about implementation (see paper [vi]). An example of wider impact on
practitioners is the fact that
Topping was invited by Times Educational Supplement online `Resources Pro'
to be involved in a
section on peer tutoring. His own section has received over 6000 visits,
with — significantly — almost
1500 downloads of practical resources to date. (TES issues weekly hit
could be made available.)
Impact in terms of changes to educational policy and practice
[Section 5 below, sources
The fact that this was an authority-wide trial allowed judgements to be
made about the viability of
rolling out such a programme across a whole district. Previous evidence
had pointed to problems
with large-scale top-down reforms designed to improve pupil attainment,
with expensive policy
initiatives often having little impact (e.g., Tymms & Merrell, 2007).
However, in this case, there was
evidence of impact at the whole-district level (see paper [v] in section
3). As a consequence of the
findings, the peer tutoring techniques were built into the Fife
Development Plan and all schools
within Fife have continued to implement tutoring. This is monitored by the
local authority, with all
schools required to explain how they are continuing to address these
issues. Since the project, it is
estimated that at least 130 schools, 250 teachers and 6750 pupils
participate in each successive
year, paying attention to the results and recommendations of the project.
Following this work,
Topping was engaged as a private consultant by the Scottish Government on
a related research
project in literacy (details on request) which will lead to changes in
policy as well as practice in all
local authorities in Scotland.
Wider impact upon professional debate and public opinion [Section
5 below, sources 5, 9,10]
The work has attracted significant professional and public attention. For
example, the National
College for School Leadership in England published a paper summarising the
arranged a `hotseat' webinar between key members of the research team and
99 head teachers
interested in developing similar projects. This was followed up by an
online discussion with further
interested parties. There were 823 page views for the hotseat discussion
and the recording on the
website has been downloaded 245 times. Greater professional and public
understanding of peer
tutoring techniques and their effectiveness has been demonstrated through
dissemination and follow-up activities. The Fife project has been reported
to the whole of Scotland
at a practitioner-oriented Learning and Teaching Scotland conference
(Glasgow, 15-17 April,
2009). The media have reported the project extensively, focusing on
results and recommendations
and emphasising cost-effectiveness of the method. In addition to coverage
on at least two
occasions by the Times Educational Supplement, in 2008 and 2011, there has
also been coverage
across the UK and internationally by the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian,
the Sunday Express, the
Daily Herald, the Scotsman, the Sud-Deutsche Zeitung, Radio 5 live and
Television. Many of these reports are available if requested.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- An overview of the Fife Peer Learning project can be accessed here:
- The Education Officer responsible for the project within Fife is
available to report on the trial
and its impact on policy and practice.
- Fife Council (2010). Educational development plan.
Dunfermline: Fife Council. (available on
- One participating teacher described her experiences and cites evidence
from her own research
project in a blog (http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/2011/sep/22/reading-peer-tutoring-teaching-resources)
- The National College for School Leadership website (https://www.nationalcollege.org.uk)(login
pdf available on request).
- Corroboration of influence on national policy making may be obtained
from the Literacy Policy
Lead, Scottish Government.
- Primary Class Teacher, Kettle Primary School can provide corroboration
from a school
involved in the Fife trial.
- Example of school from neighbouring authority which has developed peer
tutoring since the
trial: (contact Secondary/Literacy Support Teacher, Craigie High School)
- Coverage in Times Educational Supplement, in 2008
- Later coverage in Times Educational Supplement 2011