Around a quarter of catch-up tutoring courses for this academic year have been delivered by the provider of the Government’s flagship tuition scheme, figures reveal.
Headteachers suggest schools are finding the system “confusing and difficult” to navigate.
More than 300,000 tutoring courses began last term under the school-led tutoring route, but only 72,000 courses began under schemes coordinated by chosen provider Randstad, Department for Education (DfE) figures show.
Randstad, the company which was awarded the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) contract this year, has faced criticism for lacking the capacity or competence to deliver the scheme “effectively”.
Last month, Nick Bent, chief executive of the Tutor Trust, one of the partners delivering tutoring in schools, told MPs that Randstad did not “have enough staff or the right expertise” and there were “problems” with the tuition hub.
The DfE has said it is working closely with Randstad to make sure numbers continue to rise and tutoring continues to reach the students who need it.
Randstad is the supplier of the NTP – the flagship scheme for helping pupils to catch up with learning loss – this academic year after the £25 million contract was awarded to the company in June.
A separate school-led tutoring route was announced in June last year, with schools receiving £579 million directly to employ their own catch-up tutors.
The DfE has said it is “on track” to deliver their target of two million tuition courses this academic year, with 302,000 courses starting last term and an estimated 230,000 accessed through the school-led tutoring programme.
An estimated 52,000 starts have been made by pupils on courses provided through the Tuition Partners’ scheme so far this academic year, while 20,000 starts have been made by pupils under the Academic Mentors’ scheme, both of which are coordinated by Randstad.
The 52,000 starts represent only 10% of the company’s target of 524,000 sessions while the estimated 20,000 pupils supported through the Academic Mentor programme equates to less than 8% of the 252,000 target for 2021/22.
Headteachers have said the figures for take-up of the programme under Randstad are “significantly less impressive” than those for school-led routes, and that schools report they find accessing support through the external partner route “confusing and difficult”.
Karen Guthrie, programme director of the NTP at Randstad, is due to be questioned by MPs about the company’s performance in running the contract during a Commons’ Education Select Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that it was “pleasing” to see up to 230,000 pupils who had seen their education “badly disrupted” by the pandemic being offered one-to-one support.
“Some of these young people will have so far only received a first session of tutoring but it is a positive start,” he said, adding that schools knew their pupils’ learning needs “better than anyone and will appreciate being able to stay in control of the tutoring support on offer”.
But he added that in comparison, the “figures returned by the Government’s chosen tuition partner Randstad are significantly less impressive and it comes as no surprise to learn that schools are opting to keep tuition in-house as opposed to outsourcing it”.
Mr Barton said ASCL had said schools were finding it difficult to place their trust “in an external provider” and that the Government’s decision “to use an expensive commercial partner has backfired”.
“It should place its faith firmly in the teaching profession to repair the damage to education suffered by so many of our young people,” he said.
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Schools have told us that they find accessing tuition support through the National Tutoring Programme confusing and difficult. The numbers for the national scheme are, without question, disappointingly low.”
He said that the figures released on Tuesday showed that schools were “stepping forward to arrange their own tutoring support for pupils” using the “more flexible” school-led route in spite of issues with the national scheme.
Given that funding had been made available in the autumn term and training for tutors had begun in November, he said schools had “done well to commence tuition for nearly a quarter of a million pupils”.
“This shows real appetite for tutoring but that schools aren’t finding the national route accessible,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the story behind these numbers is that there are still many children that would benefit from tutoring support who are not getting it. Too many schools report that there are simply no tutors available that meet their needs.
“The Government’s tutoring revolution risks stalling unless more is done to ensure that high quality, easy-to-access tutoring support is available to every school, for all pupils that need it, in every single part of the country.”
Schools Minister Robin Walker said: “We are now seeing the real reach and impact of the unprecedented investment this Government is making in supporting children’s education recovery.
“Every pupil – wherever they live – should be supported to get back on track and reach their potential, and that’s what this tutoring programme is doing.
“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.”
A Randstad spokesperson said: “We are really pleased to see how many pupils have already benefited from catch-up tutoring through the programme this academic year. We are continuing to work closely with all of our stakeholders 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 report this morning published by the Government analysing catch-up strategies used by over 1,000 school leaders in the 2020/21 academic year found that in Autumn 2020, internal interventions developed within schools were more popular than the support provided by the NTP. By the spring and summer terms, support in school had become more “honed and extensive”.
The survey of heads found that in primary schools, 94% said they used phonics interventions to support pupils in the autumn term of 2020, while in secondary schools, 88% said they had provided pupils with access to computers or software and 80% had used small group or one-to-one interventions.
School leaders reported that support from the NTP was most useful for pupils who were eligible for free school meals.