Covid catch-up tuition 92% 'adrift of' year-end target

EXCLUSIVE: Small take-up of the government's 'complex' National Tutoring Programme is 'very worrying', say heads
6th December 2021, 5:49pm
Catherine Lough & Mary-Louise Clews

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Covid catch-up tuition 92% 'adrift of' year-end target

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/covid-catch-tuition-92-adrift-year-end-target
Tutoring
picture: Tutoring

Just 8 per cent of the 524,000 pupils the government aims to reach with its flagship Covid catch-up tutoring programme in 2021-22 have started their tuition - a third of the way through the school year.

The Department for Education said the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) should offer tuition to 776,000 pupils in 2021-22, with 524,000 pupils accessing subsidised tutoring sessions and 252,000 pupils supported by academic mentors.

But only 43,000 pupils (8 per cent) have started tutoring since September, according to the latest figures supplied to Tes by Randstad, the company the DfE has tasked to deliver its Covid recovery efforts this year.


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This means that 92 per cent of the 481,000 students that the government has contracted Randstad to target are yet to receive any catch-up tuition, a third of the way through the academic year.

'On track'

Schools minister Robin Walker told Parliament yesterday that the NTP was "on track in terms of recruitment", but appeared to acknowledge that a higher take-up of direct tutoring was needed.

He said: "The National Tutoring Programme is on-track overall and what we're seeing is very strong take-up of the school-based element and the academic mentor element increasing.

"We do want to see more take-up of the direct tutoring [under tuition partners] and we are working closely with Randstad and with their sub-providers to ensure...that increases."

'Very worrying'

But headteachers are concerned about the level of tuition carried out so far this year and say the scheme is too "complex" for schools.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It is very worrying to hear that the NTP is so far adrift of its target.

"While one-to-one and small group tuition is a well-evidenced way of supporting learning, the problem with this scheme has always been that it is far too complex."

This complexity, Mr Barton said, was because the NTP involved arranging suitable time slots with an external provider, briefing tutors about pupils' needs and funding 30 per cent of costs through school budgets.

"Some schools may be able to make this work well for their pupils, but it is easy to see why others might prefer to use their own staff for tutoring," he said.

Mr Barton said that it was likely the NTP would become "increasingly unattractive to schools as the subsidy rate tapers downwards over the course of the programme".

Schools are expected to fund 50 per cent of the cost in 2022-23 and 75 per cent of the cost in 2023-24.

Schools 'put off' NTP

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: "Too many schools have been put off from engaging in the NTP by the bureaucracy associated with the scheme and confused messaging and funding arrangements.

"This needs to be put right quickly. There is a window right now that is closing fast. We need more schools and more pupils engaged in this programme, not just more sessions for the minority of pupils that have benefited so far."

Schools should have the ability to determine the amount of tutoring support required by individual pupils, he added.

"Some will need less, others more. Indeed, many could benefit from tailored support across multiple subjects," he said.

'Pitiful' numbers of schools involved

Meanwhile, more than half (28) of 41 tuition partners subcontracted to deliver the NTP by Randstad recently wrote to the firm and the DfE to alert it to their fears over the programme's delivery.

Tuition partners say that marketing of the programme to schools has been too limited and fear this is reducing take-up from headteachers. 

One tuition partner told Tes that the programme's operation this year was "night and day" when compared with how it was run last year under the Education Endowment Foundation, the Sutton Trust, Teach First, Impetus and Nesta. 

It said that the website for schools to register to book tuition was "outdated and overly bureaucratic" and had become a barrier to schools accessing the scheme.

"The feedback we're getting from all our partner schools is they just can't use it, they just find it too technologically difficult to access and it takes far too much time to try and figure out how it all works," it said.

The provider added that it had taken this administrative task on for schools, which worked for those where they had an existing relationship, but was putting off new schools from engaging.

It added that the marketing efforts this year from Randstad were insufficient compared with the year before, and that in the first year they had had hundreds of emails and queries from interested schools, while this year just a handful of enquiries had come through the NTP website.

"It feels like working with a start-up, but on a kind of giant national contract, which feels really bizarre…it feels like it's the first time they're doing something like this at this sort of scale," the provider said, adding that Randstad seemed to lack staff to deal with issues.

"The numbers that Randstad have brought through are pitiful in my opinion," another tuition partner told Tes.

They said that, in the first year of NTP, they had nearly 10,000 places on the programme sold within two weeks, while this year they have only had 3,000 places booked, with 7,000 remaining.

"We are promoting and informing schools as much as possible, but the absence of any centralised working hub or promotional activity is making things impossible," they said.

They added that, "we don't have the evaluation, we don't have the promotion; we have a central hub which pushes teachers to the brink of tears trying to get things through on it".

"Our approach is if a teacher wants to book their tuition we handle all of the friction and difficulty on the hub for them...So what you're essentially seeing is tuition partners who are charitable organisations taking on the failures of Randstad to try and make a success of the thing.

"You're also seeing us do pro-bono consulting for Randstad saying how the system could be better, suggesting how we would run the virtual hub. It's crazy, and I have to say I can't keep using my resources to shore up Randstad's shoddiness."

In one area where schools had set up a webinar to find out more information from tuition partners, Randstad did not issue any materials or communicate with schools and the webinar was cancelled, one partner told Tes.

Just 'teething problems'

Some partners spoke positively about their experience with Randstad, with a spokesperson for EM Tuition telling Tes: "Every issue that we've had they've been trying to sort.

"It doesn't matter who's running it, there were always going to be teething problems...there's a webinar today for schools, and that's a big piece of marketing.

"They're new, and they're learning, but any time we've asked them to solve problems they've done it, so I can't complain about that."

No tender

The DfE has increased the amount it is paying to Randstad without tendering to other suppliers.

The DfE modified its contract with recruitment firm Randstad last month to hand it a further £6.5 million without tender, to oversee the training of both QTS and non-QTS tutors to deliver school-led tutoring this year, Tes can reveal.

The extension of the DfE's contract takes the full amount paid to Randstad for the national Covid education recovery effort this year to more than £32 million.

The contract was modified because using "an alternative supplier would have caused a duplication of digital platform and confusion regarding the communications and marketing of the programme", a DfE notice reads.

Response

A Randstad spokesperson said: "With over 30 years of experience in the education sector we are confident in our ability to lead the delivery of the National Tutoring Programme.

"We recognise the importance of the programme and take the responsibility of managing it extremely seriously. We are working very closely with tuition partners to ensure we deliver an ambitious and high-quality programme at pace, for schools to help their pupils whose education has been most impacted."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are significantly expanding the National Tutoring Programme this year, building on the progress from last year when more than 300,000 children benefited, and giving schools more flexibility to deliver high-quality tutoring that helps pupils catch up on missed learning.

"We recognise the importance of not over-burdening schools with regard to data collection, but frequent and up-to-date feedback is vital in helping to shape the National Tutoring Programme, ensuring that it works for both schools and pupils."

The National Foundation for Educational Research is currently conducting an evaluation of year 1 of the scheme.

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