New-look National Tutoring Programme must 'deliver on its moral imperative'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The new-look National Tutoring Programme (NTP) must address regional disparities in provision and ensure clear targets for reaching low-income students, it was said this week.

The government has finally admitted defeat and has pledged to give all of its catch-up tutoring funding for 2022/23 directly to schools.

It follows months of anger at the poor and chaotic performance of the NTP – the flagship component of the Department for Education’s Covid recovery strategy.

The NTP’s core approach of making schools use “tuition partners” – a list of 57 “approved” and subsidised third party providers, many of which are profit-making companies – has not been popular. Even less popular has been its “academic mentors” route.

The final straw seems to have been a scathing report from the Education Select Committee last month, which accused the NTP of “failing the most disadvantaged” young people.

However, the school-led route, which launched in November, and which sees funding going directly to schools to organise their own provision, has been very popular.

The latest figures show that of 887,521 tutoring courses that have started so far, this academic year, 674,941 have been on the school-led route (DfE, 2022).

Last month, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi responded to the criticism of the core NTP offer by transferring up to £65m into the school-led route from the other two routes.

And this week, he finally backed down and confirmed that all £349m tutoring funding for the 2022/23 academic year will go to schools.

It means the government is to axe HR firm Randstad, which has been delivering the tuition partners and academic mentors strands of the NTP.

A new tender has now been launched for a supplier who will be responsible for quality assurance, recruiting and deploying academic mentors and offering training.

Schools that are currently working with tuition partners will be able to continue this work next year and, similarly, eligible schools can continue to employ academic mentors.

A DfE statement said: “This will simplify the system and give schools the freedom to decide how best to provide tutoring for their children, which could include one on one or small group tutoring through teachers or teaching assistants or continuing to work with external tutoring specialists and academic mentors.”

Director of the NTP at Randstad, Karen Guthrie, responding to the news, said: “We remain committed to the programmes’ principles and its delivery and still have an important job to do for the remainder of this year. Randstad will look to continue its relationship with the DfE if we believe it is in the best interest of the programme and all those benefiting from it.”

All eyes now turn to the set-up of the new-look NTP from September. Among the Education Select Committee’s core criticisms, was that it was not clear whether disadvantaged children were being reached by the NTP, especially as the target to for tuition partners to ensure at least 65% of tutoring was for Pupil Premium pupils was removed. MPs on the committee also pointed to huge regional disparities in tutoring provision.

James Turner, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, said that the initiative must now “deliver on its moral imperative”.

He added: “The welcome flexibility being given to schools must not come at the expense of quality or in reaching the most disadvantaged students who need support the most.

“The evidence is clear that tutoring can make a huge difference to pupils. It would be a tragedy if private tuition once again became the preserve of the better-off. The refocused NTP must have clear targets around reaching low-income students and underserved parts of the country, as well as a workable mechanism for ensuring high-quality provision is supported.

“All tutoring is not the same, and to have maximum impact on the attainment gap we need the NTP to focus on evidence-based approaches which are ultimately most likely to benefit children.

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute, added: "The decision to give schools more autonomy over how they use the NTP has the potential to reduce some of the problems that the programme has been beset by since its launch. Over the last two years, we have seen significant regional disparities in access to tutoring and evidence that the programme has failed to reach disadvantaged pupils who are most in need of support.

"The success of the NTP over the coming years will be pivotal to supporting pupils' education recovery from the pandemic. Our research has shown that pupil learning losses are more heavily concentrated in parts of the North and Midlands, so it's vital that the programme makes improvements to both the quality of its interventions and their reach."

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was “unquestionably the right decision”.

He added: “The success of the school-led route shows that the appetite for tutoring is there. Likewise, it is right to refocus the NTP on growing the supply of high quality tutors everywhere, particularly in areas of the country currently poorly served.

“To succeed, this needs to be led by schools, not done-to schools; it needs to be for pupils, not for profit; it needs to be seen to be part-and-parcel of schools’ work to narrow the achievement gap, instead of a sticking plaster for Covid recovery.

"Schools will start setting budgets and shaping Pupil Premium strategies for 22/23 over coming weeks. If the opportunity is to be seized then schools will need to know sooner rather than later how much tutor funding will be coming their way, and the top-up required.”

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