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the secret time-tested pedagogy of oxford

The University of Oxford’s admissions website succinctly defines the purpose of undergraduate tutorials: “They develop your ability to think for yourself.”

Fortunately, students at Greene’s are not expected to wait until they are undergraduates to benefit from a learning method aimed at developing independent thought. Tutorials at Greene’s are discussion-based, rather than lecture-based, meaning that knowledge is not imparted top-down but instead drawn out through the exploration of ideas. This approach empowers students to feel responsible for their own learning, write and speak with confidence about their findings, handle challenging academic dialogue, and, ultimately, solidify their understanding of any subject.

The tutorial method: Personal Tutoring

By the time that they reach their A levels, students have already built a foundation of knowledge and have established individual interests. With the right personalised support, they are inspired to increase the breadth and depth of their knowledge and develop into self-sufficient researchers. At Greene’s, we rely on two pillars to optimally support our students and their learning: the tutorial method applied to sixth form subjects and the guidance of a Personal Tutor who provides academic support and serves as an invaluable mentor. The Personal Tutor coaches, advises and helps to ensure students are progressing well towards their individual goals.

Did you know that all of our A levels are taught with the tutorial method?

Find out more about A Levels At Greene’s

How big are the class sizes?

For a Greene’s student, much like the undergraduates at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, structured learning happens in individualised tutorials: one-to-one or very small group sessions, delivered online or in person, with a subject-matter expert tutor. Subject tutorials are held multiple times during the week, and, in preparation, the student studies independently with the aim of producing an essay or solving a set of problems relevant to their chosen subject. We find that a 3:1 study ratio, i.e. three hours of independent preparation for each tutorial, yields the greatest success in terms of student independence and academic performance.

Konstantin, Greene's student

At Greene’s, I have one-to-one tutorials. It’s really cool because all of the attention from tutors goes straight to you. That’s amazing because any any question that you have, you can get the answer to. In one tutorial you can study a new topic and in another you can say “I’m not really clear about this topic” and you can take another look at it.

What happens in a tutorial?

A tutorial session itself can take the shape of a debate on aspects of literature, collaborative microscopy work, an analysis of a mathematical problem, a discussion of philosophical thought—and many other forms. One of the core benefits of the tutorial method is that tutorials can be individualised to each student and are shaped by the lively exchange of ideas between a unique pairing of tutor and tutee. As Professor Emma Smith, Fellow of Hertford College and Lecturer in the Faculty of English at Oxford explains, “No two tutorials should be the same, and no tutor should try and make them so.”² Assuming students come well-prepared, these sessions encourage students to discover—literally to un-cover—truths that are waiting to be revealed by their own unique intellect. There is no telling what the course or outcome of the discussion will be.

can the tutorial method work in an online setting?

With an emphasis on personalised learning, it’s fair to say that there’s no such thing as a “typical” tutorial at Greene’s. With the guidance of their Personal Tutor and an eye on their future university studies, students define the subjects they choose to study. They determine the place and time of their learning: at our physical locations in Oxford, England or Estoril, Portugal, or online, wherever they are in the world. While Covid-era learning revealed the pitfalls of shifting to remote education for many institutions, we have been building our expertise in delivering future-proofed online tutorials for years. Currently, 75% of our tutorials are delivered online and we only expect that number to grow.

Imagine a future of independent thinkers

Like Dr Wagner and other forward-thinking educators, Greene’s aims to equip future undergraduates with the skills to think for themselves: ones who can already research effectively, sift information, confidently engage in critical discussion, write compellingly, and argue coherently. Imagine first-year students who are primed for active learning and who have already begun to unfold the powers of their minds. Imagine making remedial academic literacy courses obsolete. At Greene’s, we have been working towards this ideal for over five decades, preparing thousands of students for a rich intellectual life at university and instilling the soft skills for a lifetime of success.


¹’The Oxford Tutorial in the Context of Theory on Student Learning: “Knowledge is a wild thing, and must be hunted before it can be tamed”‘, in Palfreyman, David ed., The Oxford Tutorial: Thanks you taught me how to think, second edition, Peking University Press (Beijing, China), p. 95.


² ‘English: A Shared Enterprise’, in Palfreyman, David ed., The Oxford Tutorial: Thanks you taught me how to think, second edition, Peking University Press (Beijing, China), p. 77.

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