The government has intervened to “step up” participation in the tuition partners arm of its National Tutoring Programme, a minister has revealed.
Robin Walker told MPs today that the government wanted to see “more take-up” of subsidised tutoring through the scheme. Government is now “working closely” with its contractor Randstad and sub-providers to ensure uptake “steps up and increases”.
It comes as tutors warned Randstad’s central technology platform has been “beset by issues” and is “frustrating and difficult to use”, making schools more likely to rely on grant funding for their own provision.
The firm said last week that over 20,000 pupils have so far started tutoring. The target is to reach 524,000 this academic year.
The government meanwhile has refused to release its own figures, claiming that doing so at this stage would create “unclear public messages about the reach of the programme”.
Walker was quizzed over the progress of the scheme after the Financial Times revealed details of a survey of tutoring providers, in which 90 per cent said they did not believe Randstad had been “sufficiently prepared” for the scheme’s launch.
The Dutch HR firm was selected to run the programme from its second year in the summer.
It was issued with a contract worth £37 million less than the total on offer, with multiple sources telling Schools Week at the time that the firm had undercut the Education Endowment Foundation, which ran the NTP for its first year.
Tutoring programme ‘on track overall’
During education questions in the House of Commons this afternoon, Stephen Morgan, the new shadow schools minister, asked “what action will the minister take to ensure additional tutoring support will reach every child who needs it”.
Walker said the NTP was “on-track overall”, and that there was “very strong” take-up of the school-based tutoring element, and that the academic mentor arm was “increasing”.
“We do want to see more take-up of the direct tutoring and we’re working closely with Randstad and with their sub-providers to ensure that that steps up and increases, as we get a higher trajectory of what we want to see later in the year.”
In September, Schools Week revealed how tens of thousands of pupils were still stuck in limbo during a stand-off between Randstad and some providers over a clause in the proposed contract that allowed Randstad to “confiscate” tutors and staff from providers.
It was also reported in October that four in ten schools had told a Department for Education survey in July that they did not expect to use the NTP this year.
Randstad platform ‘beset by issues’
John Nichols, president of The Tutors’ Association, said he “understands that schools are preferring to use school-led tuition grant funding, partly because Randstad’s central online platform schools must use to enroll is “difficult to use”.
“The tuition partners pillar really needs to enable effective tuition providers to use their own systems that work in order to deliver the impact needed for children and young people,” said Nichols.
He said Randstad and the DfE should offer the “maximum flexibility” to tuition partners “in order to ensure that disadvantaged students get the support they need”.
Randstad told the FT it had had a “good start to the academic year”, with over 28,000 pupils registered and tutoring “already well underway for over 20,000 pupils who need it most”.
“In addition more than 5,000 schools have now registered on the platform over the last two and a half months and this number is continuing to grow.”
Randstad told Schools Week it was “confident in our ability” to lead the programme, and was 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”.
“We recognise the importance of the programme and take the responsibility of managing it extremely seriously,” a spokesperson said.
The firm said it had also asked tuition partners to help with testing of its technology platform, and had organised sessions with partners and its technical team to help them with it.
DfE refuses to show its working
The government has so far refused to release its own figures for uptake of the NTP this year. In a written answer last week, Walker said data from schools would be published “in due course following validation in accordance with the Statistical Code of Practice”.
The Department for Education claimed in a freedom of information request response to Schools Week that publishing data on the uptake of the scheme so far was “likely to create unclear public messages about the reach of the programme”.
They instead intend to report “on the performance of the programme at specific points throughout the academic year to ensure transparency”.
“We do not believe it is in the public interest to prematurely release operational information that is being reviewed. This is particularly the case here, as the figures are likely to change as quality assurance is undertaken for the data.”
Publication at this stage could also cause “cause unnecessary confusion or be detrimental to successful future delivery before it has been finalised”, the department said.