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Why early intervention is key to long-term success

Two tutors at Kip McGrath speak from first-hand experience about why early intervention when students are struggling with maths or English is key to long-term success and confidence in the classroom.

Hollie Ulbricht, a Hub Manager at Kip McGrath Education Centres, was sitting in the audience at a recent secondary school assembly where students were being awarded for their academic success, as well as their outstanding effort and dedication to their learning.

Among the students was a familiar face.

“One student had come to Kip McGrath in Grade 1, as they were really struggling with their reading. After 12 months, they had caught up, not only with their reading but also their spelling and comprehension, and they graduated from the program,” Hollie recalls.

Image: Hollie Ulbricht.

“Now in secondary school, this student was receiving an award for their academic achievements in English. I wondered what the outcome might have been if they hadn’t received early intervention for their literacy skills.”

Students fall behind for many reasons but identifying it early prevents it from becoming a bigger issue. It’s something tutors at Kip McGrath Education Centres know all too well. Founded in 1976 by two Australian school teachers, Kip and Dug McGrath, the network has grown to 600 centres worldwide. It has 150 centres across Australia and New Zealand, offering both online and in-person tuition in maths and English.

Australian parenting resource, Raising Children Network, advises that if a child is having early difficulties with reading, writing and maths, it’s important to get these problems checked out early. For parents, it recommends talking with their child’s teacher, or seeing a GP.

At Kip McGrath, tutors like Hollie do not diagnose children who may be experiencing learning difficulties. However, they provide a free assessment to determine how a child is really doing in class.

With a Diploma of Community and Family Services and a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, Hollie worked in early education for 11 years, before then starting a tutoring role with Kip McGrath. Now in her tenth year at Kip McGrath, she is based in Bathurst, NSW, but also works with tutors and students across NSW, Tasmania and the ACT.

“I tutor students from six to 16 years of age who are working at a primary school level in either maths or English. In my role I also assess students to identify their learning gaps and provide programs to see them achieve their needed learning goals,” she says.

“Early intervention is key to long-term success and confidence in the classroom and beyond. At Kip McGrath we see many students that have gone under the radar or fallen through the gaps for such a long time, that by the time intervention is sought, we may not have the time to cover all that is needed before finishing school.”

Hollie says many students have shown to be working two to four years behind their chronological age and grade level expectations.

“Although there are many roads post-school to assist with learning gaps, early intervention makes the journey from school to the ‘real world’ – and even grade to grade – much easier.”

But convincing parents to ‘act now’ can be challenging. She wants parents to trust their instincts and seek advice early.

“I hear a lot of comments from parents like ‘I just want to wait and see how they go’, ‘They have a new teacher so things will be better now’, ‘We are in a new school, so we want to see how that goes’,” Hollie says.

“Unfortunately, choosing to ignore the parental gut instinct that ‘my child needs help’ can mean that intervention is left too late to really get the needed support. It is always best to intervene early. Ensure the time is there for the support they need. This will lead to confident, lifelong learners.”

To help parents understand, Hollie finds it useful to draw an analogy between a child’s education and their health.

“Early intervention with something such as a broken arm, for example, will mean it will heal faster and more correctly rather than if it were left untreated for months and become untreatable or lead to surgery. Early intervention is always the best solution.”

Hollie remembers another student who received support in their reading and comprehension when they were in grade 2.

“This student was very reluctant to complete any work. Little by little, their confidence grew and each lesson more words were being read, more sentences were being written,” she says.

“There were smiles and giggles instead of frowns and tears.”

“I worked with this student for months, and it was amazing to see how far they had come, also going on to receive an award for their dedication and outstanding effort in English lessons years later. Early intervention for this student lead to confidence and willingness to learn that carried through the rest of primary school and into high school. What will they go on to achieve?”

Proactive approach

For tutor Ms Tegan Chambers, Hub Manager at Kip McGrath Education Centres, assessing new students is a highly-valued aspect of her role.

“I enjoy being able to explain to children and their parents the importance of early intervention and also explain exactly how we are going to achieve that,” she says.

Image: Tegan Chambers.

Tegan has an Associate Degree in Education and Diploma in Early Education. She previously worked in a school for 10 years, supporting students who were on individualised learning plans.

“It was during those 10 years that I knew I was drawn more to supporting students on a smaller, remedial level rather than as a whole class. This is what led me to Kip McGrath,” she says.

During her three years at Kip McGrath to date, she has tutored primary aged students in math and English, both in-centre and online.

“By identifying and addressing learning gaps early on, students can build a strong foundation in core subjects like maths and English. This proactive approach not only boosts confidence but also prevents struggles from snowballing into larger obstacles later in a student’s academic journey,” Tegan says.

“So often I hear parents say, ‘We wish we enrolled years ago’. Early intervention leads to greater success and parents should be encouraged to have their students assessed at the first sign that they are struggling.”

Tegan says the sooner tutors are able to begin filling in the gaps identified in an initial assessment, the sooner the student can be on track with their learning and the risk to their confidence is less.

“I think this is something I have noticed quite often in students who have not had access to intervention before their gaps become significant, is that their learning dispositions and confidence are now also impeding on their learning growth,” she says.

Tegan recalls one of her first students – a young girl experiencing external factors which hindered her from keeping up with her peers.

“Her reading was behind and she was on a reading program. With every stage I kept in close contact with her mum to continue to encourage the support at home, and this student continued to work hard each week. Reports from school noted they had ‘already’ seen a difference in this student in class and I believe it was because we were able to intervene before she was too far behind her peers,” Tegan says.

“Her confidence grew quickly and she proudly read aloud because she felt safe to give it a go. This confidence and the support of the Kip McGrath program meant she progressed through the reading program right on track and ‘graduated’ to a Keep Up student before we knew it.”

Signs a child may need extra support

Parents and teachers might notice learning difficulties and early signs of specific learning disorders in the early years of primary school, when children start classroom-based learning in reading, writing and maths.

For example, if a school-age child has learning difficulties or a specific learning disorder, they might:

  • dislike reading, writing or maths or find reading, writing or maths hard
  • have a lot of trouble spelling common words, sounding out words or counting
  • find it hard to count syllables in words or spot single sounds in words, like the ‘k’ sound in ‘monkey’
  • find it hard to think of rhyming words
  • have trouble with basic maths skills – for example, they lose track when counting or need to count things one by one
  • don’t feel confident about schoolwork
  • try to avoid schoolwork or homework or get upset about doing it. Source: Raising Children Network

For more information, visit www.kipmcgrath.com.au.

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