Begun with a £350 million cash injection last year, the government’s flagship tutoring scheme, aimed at helping pupils recover learning lost during the Covid crisis, has never been far from the headlines.
The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) has been subject to a fair amount of criticism over its capacity to meet demand, a lack of flexibility offered to schools, slow take-up in regions including the North East, and perhaps most of all, the proportion of tutoring going to the country’s poorest pupils.
And earlier this month, the government caused a stir by announcing that the scheme would be operated by a multinational outsourcing company from the start of the next academic year.
Exclusive: Catch-up tutors snubbed by schools in North
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which led the first phase of the programme, had supported the creation of a new independent charity, the National Tutoring Foundation, chaired by former Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert, to compete for the NTP contract for 2021-22.
But the government instead selected Dutch firm Randstad to run the scheme from September.
Today, the details of the £25 million contract for the second delivery phase have been published, revealing the Department for Education’s vision for the future of the NTP.
Among the revelations are the government’s plans for only 10 per cent of catch-up tutoring sessions to be delivered on a one-to-one basis, despite the prime minister’s previous claim that this format can make a “huge difference” to pupils’ attainment.
And in addition to the DfE’s new target for at least 65 per cent of tuition to go to disadvantaged children, the contract with Randstad sets regional goals for delivery based on pupil premium distribution.
Here’s everything you need to know about the changes to come.
Will schools still have to pay towards tutoring?
Until now, schools have been asked to meet 25 per cent of the cost of catch-up sessions accessed through the Tuition Partners arm of the NTP, which offers subsidised tutoring from a list of approved providers.
Meanwhile, the government has paid the full £19,000 salaries of staff employed through the Academic Mentors arm of the scheme, who were trained by Teach First to deliver one-to-one and small group tutoring on site.
The final contract reveals that the DfE plans to taper off its contribution to all NTP tuition costs, with schools expected to pay 30 per cent towards subsidised sessions and 5 per cent towards mentor salaries by the end of 2021-22.
The subsidies for both arms of the scheme will then drop to 50 per cent and 10 per cent in 2022-23 and 2023-24 respectively, subject to spending reviews, if the government chooses to extend its contract with Randstad beyond next year.
This means schools will potentially need to cover 90 per cent of the cost of tuition accessed through the NTP after three years.
Is the scheme being scaled up?
During the first year of delivery, the NTP said it hoped its subsidised tutoring sessions would reach 250,000 pupils.
This figure came under scrutiny when Tes revealed it represented less than a fifth of pupils known to be classed as “disadvantaged” by the programme.
Last month, Becky Francis, chief executive of the EEF, said it had been a “challenge” to scale up the programme and “stimulate supply”.
But the DfE has set its sights on significantly increasing the NTP’s reach in the first year with Randstad in charge, and a “prime total ambition” of around 776,000 pupils “impacted” in the academic year 2021-22, 825,000 in 2022-23 and 825,000 in 2024-25.
In 2021-22, this should include 524,000 pupils accessing subsidised tutoring sessions and 252,000 pupils supported by academic mentors.
How will tutoring be delivered?
The contract states that only 10 per cent of catch-up tutoring sessions will be delivered on a one-to-one basis, despite the prime minister's apparent enthusiasm for the format.
But today’s documents show that the DfE is aiming for just 10 per cent of sessions to be carried out in this way, with the same proportion delivered on a one-to-two basis, and the vast majority (80 per cent) in small groups, at a ratio of one-to-three.
These targets apply to support delivered through both pillars of the scheme: subsidised sessions and mentors placed in schools.
The prime minister said last year that “as we go forward and as we come out of this pandemic, I want to see us keeping up with one-on-one tutoring because I think it can make a huge difference to the confidence of children and to their academic attainments”.
Will disadvantaged children have priority?
One of the most prominent criticisms of the NTP to date has been over the extent to which it is reaching the country’s poorest pupils.
Back in March, the National Audit Office warned that the scheme might not be reaching the most disadvantaged children, with fewer than half of the pupils who had started to receive tuition by that point eligible for pupil premium funding.
Since then, the DfE has announced a new goal for at least 65 per cent of the tuition delivered under the NTP to be targeted at pupils who qualify for the extra cash.
And today's documents show the department is also setting regional targets based on pupil premium “distribution”.
The contract states that Randstad must ensure subsidised sessions are “targeted proportionately” according to how many pupils on the premium are in each region.