Disparities in accessing the National Tutoring Programme mirror existing inequalities, writes Emily Yeomans. But we are already beginning to level regions up

The much anticipated 8 March date has now passed, with schools welcoming many more pupils back to the classroom. Inevitably this additional period of partial closures and remote learning has led to education recovery – and by extension, the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) – becoming a hot topic in education circles.

The NTP is one of many efforts needed to tackle the widening attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates, with pupils needing quality first teaching above all else. Tutoring is however an important part of the catch-up effort, with studies consistently showing its positive impact. The NTP is on target to reach a quarter of English schools by the end of the academic year and the differences we’re seeing in rates of take-up are indicative of the very access problems the NTP has been set up to address.

To ensure equal access to high-quality tutoring we first needed to tackle the supply side. Schools in some parts of England were previously unable to access high-quality tutoring even if they wanted to. The NTP addressed this through a rigorous assessment process and setting regional targets for all Tuition Partners. To date, this has been a success of the NTP, with providers covering every region in England, tutor recruitment that is ahead of schedule, and schools from the South West to Northumberland accessing tutoring.

Secondly, but importantly, there is a need to support schools who are less familiar with tutoring to take the offer up. Familiarity with and access to the tutoring market has traditionally been focused on London and the South of England. The latest Sutton Trust polling on private tuition shows young people in London are more likely to have received private tutoring than any other region in the country.

The challenge is significant, but the NTP is starting to address this ‘regional gap’

We know that once schools try tutoring they are likely to want to continue accessing the support for their pupils, and therefore schools in areas with higher tutoring-familiarity were quick to arrange this for their pupils. However, through the publication of ‘school stories’, hosting regular webinars, and publishing resources to support implementation, schools across the country are now increasingly interested in accessing tutoring.

The scale of the challenge is significant, but the data shows the NTP is successfully starting to address this ‘regional gap’, and we are on track to hit our regional targets by the end of the academic year. For schools interested in finding out more about tutoring through the NTP you can search on the NTP website and make an enquiry with a Tuition Partner.

As of 26th February, 135,000 pupils have enrolled on the NTP Tuition Partners, and we are well on the way to meeting our target of reaching 250,000 pupils by the end of this academic year. Since the NTP launch in November over 4,000 schools have been onboarded; this equates to at least one new school signing up to the NTP every hour since launch.

The pandemic has highlighted the variety of disadvantages children in different parts of the country face, including access to digital devices. Schools and teachers know their pupils best and the NTP is designed to give schools the flexibility to decide which students to put forward for tutoring, but with a focus on those pupils eligible for Pupil Premium funding. Additionally, 23 NTP Tuition Partners offer tutoring provision for pupils with SEND, and 16 can deliver tutoring to special schools. At the moment 16% of pupils enrolled on the NTP are pupils with SEND and we hope that schools continue to use the support for these pupils.

From the start, our aim has been to work collaboratively with schools so that the NTP can work for them and for their pupils. We are proud of the successful targeted support we’re seeing being implemented across the country and encourage schools to look at the options for support available to their pupils through the NTP. With a concerted and collaborative effort we can make a real difference to our disadvantaged pupils and ensure we challenge inequalities that existed before the pandemic, but which must not persist after it ends.