Schools continue to shun National Tutoring Programme

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

The evidence continues to stack up that schools want to be funded to deliver their own “catch-up” tutoring interventions and are shunning the struggling National Tutoring Programme (NTP).

Research commissioned by the Department for Education shows that among schools’ strategies for recovery work, the NTP was used by just 19 per cent of primaries and 33 per cent of secondaries during autumn 2020 (Achtaridou et al, 2022).

However, of these schools, 89 per cent of the primaries said they ran small group or one-to-one tutoring as part of recovery work, as did 80 per cent of secondaries. The schools preferred internal solutions to external options or the NTP.

This attitude is evidenced in the latest take-up figures for the NTP, published this week (DfE, 2022). They show a poor take-up for tuition offered by the NTP’s approved third-party providers – known as tuition partners – with just 52,000 courses having begun as of December 12 last year. This against a target of 524,000.

A second strand of the NTP – called academic mentors – saw only 20,000 courses started by pupils against a target of 252,000.

The only spark of light comes with the number of courses begun through the new schools-led tutoring programme – a belated third pillar of the NTP that was launched in November (DfE, 2021) and via which schools are given funding directly and organise their own tutoring.

This strand saw 230,000 courses started as of December 1 (based on survey data from half of the schools that have received funding).

It means that all in all, the NTP, which since June is being run by company Randstad, has delivered just 302,000 tutoring courses between September and December 2021 against a target of two million 15-hour courses to be delivered this academic year.

The evidence continues to suggest that schools simply want to take charge of their own tutoring programmes.

Indeed, research from the National Association of Head Teachers in June found that while 70 per cent of school leaders believe that one-to-one and small group tuition should be a priority as part of recovery work, only three per cent think this should be delivered via the NTP.

When it first launched, schools were quick to tell Headteacher Update that they were not interested in the NTP, with particular concerns about the quality and experience of some of the tutors on offer.

There was a feeling among the school leaders we spoke to that they would be able to deliver more targeted and effective provision if they were given the funds directly.

The DfE’s research report into recovery strategies echoes this sentiment. The study (Achtaridou et al, 2022) involves 1,018 school leaders and focused on recovery work during the 2020/21 academic year.

It found that school-led interventions were much more popular than external providers or the NTP. It states: “Internally developed interventions for reading, writing and maths, and small group or one-to-one interventions were most commonly used. Externally developed interventions were less popular, as was the NTP.”

The list of common strategies used by schools for recovery work in the autumn 2020 included small group and one-to-one support, employing additional academic staff, and literacy and maths interventions – all things the NTP might have provided but which schools chose to deliver themselves.

Recovery interventions: The DfE-commissioned recovery strategies research asked what strategies schools prioritised during the autumn 2020 term (Source: Achtaridou et al, 2022).

The report adds: “In interviews, leaders explained that more tailored approaches, fine-tuned by the teachers to meet specific learning needs, were more effective than the NTP. A preference was raised for flexible use of their own staff, rather than the NTP if other options weren’t available.”

The government seems to have come round to schools’ way of thinking with the launch in November of the third NTP strand of schools-led tutoring. It has allocated £579m for this and says that funding is allocated for around 60 per cent of Pupil Premium pupils in years 1 to 11. Schools must apply and must cover 25 per cent of the tutoring costs themselves – much like for the other two NTP strands.

When Headteacher Update first reported on the NTP, there was discomfort, too, among the headteachers we spoke with at the potential profits being made by some of the NTP providers.

Many of the approved NTP tutoring organisations are for-profit companies and there were reports in the early days of the NTP of some charging as much as £75-£80 an hour (Ferguson, 2021).

The three strands of the NTP

Tuition partners: Schools can access tutoring from an approved list of 57 tutoring providers known as Tuition Partners. Seventy per cent of the cost is subsidised for this academic year. Schools need to fund the remaining 30 per cent through other budgets, such as the recovery premium or Pupil Premium. The subsidy rate for 2022/23 will be 50 per cent and for 2023/24 it will be 25 per cent.

Academic Mentors: Academic mentors are salaried members of staff and work alongside teachers to provide interventions such as small group and one-to-one sessions. Ninety-five per cent of the mentor’s salary is subsidised this academic year. Schools need to fund the remaining five per cent through other budgets. The subsidy rate for 2022/23 will be 50 per cent and for 2023/24 it will be 25 per cent.

School-led tutoring: Funding is allocated for around 60 per cent of pupils, in years 1 to 11, eligible for Pupil Premium, per-school. Seventy-five per cent of the cost is subsidised this academic year. Schools will need to fund the remaining 25 per cent through other budgets. The subsidy rate for 2022/23 will be 60 per cent and for 2023/24 it will be 25 per cent.

The director of the NTP at Randstad, Karen Guthrie, appeared before the Education Selection Committee on Wednesday morning (January 12). During the short 30-minute session, Ms Guthrie admitted that she was “under no illusion” that there is more work to do and that they were "working towards" a target of reaching 65 per cent Pupil Premium students.

Commenting on the NTP figures, the DfE acknowledged more needed to be done. Schools minister Robin Walker said: “We know there is still work to do, but it’s hugely encouraging to see so many students from all backgrounds have been directly reached through the government’s tutoring programme, and I encourage all schools to take advantage of it.”

And appearing before the Education Select Committee on Wednesday morning, Mr Walker said that the DfE was listening to schools regarding giving them more control over the tutoring programme, which was why the school-led tutoring strand had been launched.

We are in the second year of the NTP, but the DfE figures also show courses run during the 2020/21 academic year: as of August 2021, 104,000 starts had been made on courses provided through academic mentors, while 207,000 starts had been made by pupils on courses provided through tuition partners.

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