Assessment for Learning


How can supportive tutor-learner relationships be strengthened, especially with online and blended learning? This project by ELATT devised a survey tool for tutors to elicit actionable feedback directly from learners.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Like many education providers in FE, emergency remote teaching and learning began at ELATT in March 2020, with all classes scrambling online. By mid-April, new applicants were navigating the online enrolment procedure. This meant tutors were meeting these new learners for the first time on Zoom or Teams. As of May 2021, adult classes are still online, while the 6th form provision is following a blended model.

The aim of this project is to support our tutors in this ‘new normal’ to build supportive and collaborative relationships with their learners. This is achieved by facilitating those learners to give feedback to their tutors through creating ‘how to give feedback’ sessions and an online survey tool. The tool we developed ensures the feedback is direct, focused and timely, creating a democratised teaching and learning experience.

ELATT is an educational charity based in Hackney where initiatives are often tutor-led. We have a Life Skills department delivering ESOL and English community projects, an IT Vocational department delivering web design, software development and other IT vocational courses, and an alternative provision for 6th Form. Our model is to support learners in identifying and achieving their life goals by developing skills, knowledge and confidence.


Research into online teaching and learning suggests that the biggest factor relating to

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OTLA Policy 2

learner retention, progress and success is having a supportive tutor (Roddy et al, 2017; Bawa 2016). To move from emergency remote teaching to an effective model of blended/online learning, we needed to review and develop our teaching, learning and assessment practices. Eliciting good-quality feedback and understanding our learners’ experiences at ELATT will help us continue to develop our quality model and processes for the new normal.

The project proposed to do this by providing a tool for tutors that would fit within existing organisational structures. These relate both to tutor support activities, such as tutorials and ILPs, as well as the wider quality framework, in particular the OTLA (Observations of Teaching, Learning and Assessment) lesson observation policy. It was important that the tool created would not be replicating current activities or adding to workloads.

As part of our regular review of ELATT’s observation policy and procedures, the learner feedback project became phase 1 of a larger quality review. Part of our former observation model was tutor observation accompanied by manager-elicited ‘learner voice’. The OTLA phase 7 project enabled us to pilot self-directed tutor observation and direct eliciting of feedback from their learners. It has always been ELATT’s main aspiration to enhance learners’ life opportunities; we also aim to support the development of learners’ analytical and communication skills. This project hopes to empower our learners to reflect and analyse, having nothing but a beneficial effect for our organisation.


The project was launched to teaching staff at our September CPD event, generating a lot of interest among teachers. With the encouragement of managers, a working group was formed of three tutors who also fulfil the roles of 6th Form English co-ordinator, volunteer co-ordinator and quality support.

The first task was to identify current points at which feedback is given, and to trial a variety of feedback models. At an early workshop, support was also sought from the organisation’s well-being officer on the tutor experience of eliciting and receiving feedback.

The working group trialled individual, group, oral and written feedback, as well as a mix of

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Forms app

open/closed and ‘on a scale of…’ questions. The elicited feedback was then evaluated by the project group. Open questions were identified as most suitable for feedback because (a) learners were less likely to feel it was a tick box exercise; (b) learners didn’t feel they had to shoehorn their experience into narrow questions and (c) as a consequence, actionable feedback was more likely to be received.

Two surveys were devised and set up in templates using the Forms app (Office 365). (See Appendix 2.) The process then was not onerous as:

  • the template adapted/contextualised by each tutor.
  • the tutor shared a survey link with the learners for completion on their device.
  • the tutor monitored completion rates on the Forms app and downloaded the results to Excel.

It was important we had a range of learner voice so, feedback methods were trialled with approximately 40 learners from three learner cohorts:

  • Level 1 adult ESOL learners, a mix of continuing and new learners.
  • 6th form FS and GCSE English learners. All have EHCP or are ‘Looked After Children’. 70% of these learners have SEND.
  • Adult ESOL learners looking for jobs in education enrolled on L2 Support Work in Schools award.

The questions were then adjusted before being rolled out as part of the experimental OTLA policy. Tutors were given the option to choose which set of questions they preferred and also to adapt to their context. (See Appendix 3.)

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

The following are some comments received from staff involved in this project:

Tutor 1:

“The project changed relationship with my students. I stop and listen more. I appreciate what they are able to do, so I hand over control to the students more. It means students take part in leading the class and it has improved their confidence.”

Tutor 2:

“Feedback told me that students really enjoyed the activities I set up but that sometimes my explanations were too fast. On reflection, I also realised that when individual students don’t understand instructions, I often ask the TA to help out – but they in turn tend to over-explain. It made me change the way I work by giving fewer instructions. However, I did find myself slipping back after a few weeks. I think I need to do the surveys regularly. I will schedule it into my scheme of work for next year.”

Tutor 3:

“As a result of the feedback, I streamlined the course for the following term to allow time for the additional workshops which students said they found useful. It was also a useful reminder that sometimes I talk too fast. I will plan to do surveys three times during my 16-week course.”

Tutor 4 was the first tutor to report back to the team on his experiences with the survey after roll out. He reported being pleased with the positive results. One student who he knew was struggling made this clear, providing a useful basis to discuss moving to a slightly less challenging qualification. The other constructive feedback was that some students wanted more practice exercises. However, when the tutor checked online, he realised that those students had not accessed the exercises provided and had forgotten where they were located, so he was able to remind them about this. Tutor 4 plans to adapt the survey to his own context and schedule it regularly.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

Pre-lockdown, there was a clear and collective idea of what outstanding teaching, learning and assessment looked like. The rush to emergency remote teaching removed some of these certainties, which then gradually re-formed through collaborative work by tutors and managers. CPD became more regular, with shorter sessions to raise urgent topics and exchange tips relating to online learning.

The learner feedback fitted well within this collective endeavour and has now become phase 1 of a larger project. With good results from the trials, the aim is that the feedback tool will be incorporated into the OTLA policy for 2021-22, to create a system which is high on trust and aims not to add to tutor stress or workload.
Going forward, an experimental policy (Appendix 3) has been created, comprising an unseen observation and tutor-elicited feedback at the first stage. At the end of 2020-21, both the feedback tool and the policy as a whole will be evaluated.

Finally, and importantly, another benefit was the teamwork by members of different departments. Even in a small organisation, time pressures and home-working reduced opportunities to work together. This opportunity to create a project space for regular meetings, workshops and support from the ETF allowed for thorough trialling, reflection and evaluation. Collaboration with the well-being officer also enabled us to move some questions into the annual wellbeing survey, which was also under review. This was an unexpected outcome of this project.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Learners across the organisation managed to achieve and progress despite the disruption of the past year, albeit with reduced numbers securing employment. The case studies which accompany this report demonstrate how tutor-learner relationships have supported achievements.

In an online ESOL L1 speaking and listening class with nine learners, the regular feedback sessions and subsequent strengthening of tutor-learner relationships supported a high proportion of learners into volunteering (four) or finding employment (two). Amazingly, one learner, SA, reported they stopped taking anti-depressants, became healthier, found a job and started to think about setting up her own business:

“Every lesson we talk about what we would like to learn more about, grammar and so on. I have a job in a restaurant because I think about my goals, and I achieve it.”

In the online teaching assistant (TA) course, which supports many progressing ESOL learners to find entry-level employment in schools, learners were encouraged to give constructive feedback, which helped them to take on the mindset of education professionals, rather than consumers of education. One learner stated:

“I went for the interview, and I can talk about everything.”

In the 6th Form English and Personal Social Development course for young people with EHCP and/or SEND, classes are blended. Pre-lockdown learners were generally keen to attend in person. However, a few new learners joining online were mainly ‘camera off’ and interacted through chat or intermediaries, e.g. families. It is challenging for both teachers and learners when classes are a mix of on-site and at-home learners. However, the classroom camera, chat and Zoom are now left open during breaks. This means that learners like N, who is severely disabled and unable to attend at present, can interact with those on site and maintain social relationships.

Learning from this project

The rationale for this project is strong, especially for our many remote learners. We found many tutors had previously relied on ad hoc/unprompted comments from learners to provide timely, insightful feedback. This type of high-quality feedback had generally opened up in informal spaces, e.g., on enrichment visits or during 1:1 sessions where there was not a time pressure.

While the team felt the project had productive and positive outcomes, we recognised that evaluation of this small sample is difficult, since the feedback survey is one piece of the jigsaw relating to tutor-learner relationships. The phase 2 data – including analysis of the outcomes for classes using each of the two survey tools – will allow us to evaluate the wider roll-out.

One roll-out challenge was to ensure all tutors fully understood the rationale behind the survey. An initial brief presentation did not provide sufficient space for tutors to discuss and absorb the purpose and value of the approach. A separate CPD session with breakouts gave more opportunity to consider both the aims/rationale as well as the practical implementation. A smaller challenge was technical. While the Forms App (Microsoft 365) is straightforward, it still needs the right support when being rolled out to busy tutors. A particular feature which caused frustration was the ‘only people in my organisation can respond’ default setting.

The questions trialled among a diversity of learners proved to be flexible tools for broad use, although data from lower-level ESOL classes is needed. However, the question regarding the frequency ‘sweet spot’ for survey use is still open. Used too often, and it can become rote. Used too infrequently, and learners do not have the practice in analysing their experience and giving feedback openly.

The trial did not find the anticipated deference and/or lack of interest, so the main barrier for a minority was in analysing their experience and communicating their thoughts. The wording on the survey was important, e.g., asking for ‘comments and feedback which helps us to change and develop our teaching and the way we interact with learners.’


Roddy C et al (2017). Applying Best Practice Online Learning, Teaching, and Support to Intensive Online Environments: An Integrative Review. Frontiers in Education. Accessed at:

Bawa P (2016). Retention in Online Courses. Sage Open. Accessed at: