Schools and the National Tutoring Programme: taking back control?


11th July 2022

Our Government is at fault for the failings of the National Tutoring Programme, but schools also need to raise their game to ensure its success.

‘Just give us your f***ing money!’ Who remembers Bob Geldof, in the middle of the heat of Live Aid, shouting this at all of us watching on TV?’ Well, sometimes school leaders take a similar approach. Regardless of the problem at hand, they argue that the solution lies in giving schools additional funding, with as little ringfencing and as few strings as possible, to fix it. Cut out the middle people and any bureaucratic impediments, and all will be rosy.

Given the significant problems with the National Tutoring Programme, it’s no wonder that schools have taken this attitude toward tutoring. And it’s an argument that they have essentially won. Following a year of DfE procurement, implementation and communication failures, changes to the tutoring programme have given schools far more autonomy and far fewer constraints, bureaucratic or otherwise.

Alongside all other pandemic errors, the National Tutoring Programme's failures contribute to a rationale for radical decentralisation of our education system from Whitehall (a reverse of the current, stalled, Schools Bill). Share on X

Randstad will go, to be replaced by one or more central provider with some smaller, sharper functions. Overall these changes make sense. As Ian Taylor, who leads on tutoring at the Academies Enterprise Trust, argued in our recent event on tutoring at EdFest, ‘when you have a complex problem, move it local’.

However, there are risks to this approach. Put simply, when it comes to tutoring, nobody knows best, yet. Not schools, not government, not tutoring agencies. Whilst there is good evidence that tutoring as an intervention can make a difference, we still need to build a far more finely-grained evidence base, examining what pedagogies really work; how tutoring best integrates with class teaching; and which skills and knowledge tutors need most.

So while schools have ‘taken back control’ of the NTP, they need to understand the responsibilities this brings in three ways. First, they need to avoid the poor practices that will waste money. If you are simply giving a few kids to an already-exhausted Teaching Assistant before or after school, in the hope that some kind of tutoring magic will happen, you are wasting everyone’s time. The school-led route may have instant appeal, but in many cases working with the expertise of tutoring programmes may prove more effective. One of the 14 recommendations from our recent ‘levelling up tutoring’ report called for government to ‘support current peer learning networks for tuition partners and create new networks for school leaders with responsibilities for tutoring. Networks should focus on sharing effective practice on delivery and capacity building to support disadvantaged pupils.

Second, they need to contribute to ongoing evidence-building for the programme. Schools are part of the biggest ever global experiment in tutoring. We need to understand what is working, and what isn’t, in as real-time a way as possible. While the external evaluations are important, schools need a system-level commitment to rigorously evaluating their own approaches, so that we can all learn from their successes and failures. Our report suggested two things: first, ‘maintain a simple approach to reporting and accountability that focuses on disadvantaged pupils’, and over time folding accountability for tutoring spend into existing systems for Pupil Premium accountability. Second, ‘develop a coherent approach to the use and creation of evidence’, an approach where schools are both guided by external evidence and evaluate their own approaches with sufficient rigour to contribute to a system-wide knowledge base.

Finally, schools will need to embrace the need for guidance, regulation, and, yes, some standardisation in practices. For instance, our report called for the creation of a set of ‘Tutor Standards’. Similar to and aligned with the professional standards for teachers and teaching assistants, this would build a shared language around effective tutoring, creating the parameters to guide tutors’ training, professional development and performance management. These standards could build the foundations for another of our recommendations – to ‘create a set of flexible but consistent pathways between the teaching, teaching assistant and tutoring professions.

A three-way flow between teaching, tutoring and teacher assistants, alongside the encouragement of flexible working, could improve recruitment and retention issues across all three areas. Share on X

Our report showed that, despite widespread demand for a significant redesign of the NTP, there is a common ‘will to win’ and an appetite for a continuation of government funding for the programme well beyond 2024. Success will need a genuine partnership between government, tuition providers, and schools.

The last year of the national tutoring programme have felt like a daily blame game. Let’s ensure that the next two years and beyond are built around a spirit of collective partnership, responsibility and accountability for success. Share on X

The CfEY is planning a Summit on the Future of Tutoring and mentoring in 2022-23. For further information, please get in touch with [email protected].

Levelling Up Tutoring’ was written in partnership with Action Tutoring, Third Space Learning and White Rose Maths.