Ministers stand accused of failing poorer pupils by tutors on its own flagship National Tutoring Programme after a key target to reach the worst-off pupils was ditched.
In a letter seen by Schools Week the tutoring organisations say they believe this has been ditched due to contractor Randstad’s “apparent failure to deliver…and ensure uptake of the programme”.
The programme now fails to focus on the disadvantaged pupils who need this support the most
In the latest blow to the beleaguered scheme, the tutors tell ministers the solution should be to “address Randstad’s ability to deliver the programme” rather than change a “valuable and needed target”.
They say: “The programme now fails to focus on the disadvantaged pupils who need this support the most, which was its original aim.”
The under-fire NTP is way off meeting promises to provide two million tutoring courses this academic year.
Just 302,000 courses began last term, figures released in January showed. Randstad, the for-profit HR firm that runs the scheme, said ditching the pupil premium target was to “remove complexities” and “help schools to access” tutoring.
Ministers urged to reverse decision
But the seven tutor organisations have pleaded with ministers to reverse their decision which is a “dilution of the core original purpose of the programme”.
Signatories include Action Tutoring, the Tutor Trust and TalentEd, which together will reach over 15,000 pupils this year.
The DfE originally launched the NTP to “reach the most disadvantaged pupils in England”.
But of the pupils tutored last year – when it was run by the Education Endowment Foundation – just 44 per cent were pupil premium students. However, there was no target for its inaugural year.
The Department for Education had stipulated the 65 per cent pupil premium requirement this year. It is also a key performance indicator in its contract with Randstad.
Schools Week revealed last week how the programme was yet to share basic data showing how many poorer pupils it had helped, six weeks after MPs demanded it.
Shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan said ministers have “no intention of guaranteeing education recovery support for those who need it most. The Conservatives’ utter failure to secure children’s learning and opportunities threatens to limit the life chances of a generation of children.”
A DfE spokesperson insisted this week the contractual target remains in place, but tutoring organisations have been given some “operational flexibility”.
Randstad said it remained committed to the target through “all tuition routes” on the programme. The other two pillars are academic mentors and schools-led tutoring.
Karen Guthrie, Randstad’s NTP senior programme director, said they “trust schools to select the pupils recognising that more than pupil premium pupils alone have been impacted by the pandemic”.
NTP less likely to hit poorer pupils target
But the move means the NTP is much less likely to hit the target, given this was the key lever Randstad had to ensure more poorer pupils were targeted for support.
One of the NTP’s founding charities – the Sutton Trust – told Schools Week the programme “must continue to be driven by the moral imperative which led to its foundation in the first place”.
James Turner, chief executive at the Sutton Trust, said: “We should be doing all we can to make sure the poorest pupils – who we know have been hardest hit by the pandemic – have access to the support they need to catch up and thrive.”
Natalie Perera, chief executive at the Education Policy Institute, added, “If fewer disadvantaged pupils are to benefit from this flagship programme, the government must set out clearly how it intends to support these pupils through alternative interventions”.
The Observer newspaper reported last month that the government was “poised” to terminate Randstad’s £32 million contract. The government has refused to comment on this.
Robin Walker, schools minister, said this week that “they continue to review the delivery of the programme and will set out our future plans in due course”.
Randstad is also “consulting” the DfE on how schools can swap pupils in and out of a block of tuition once it has started.
TES had reported providers insisted running tutoring sessions despite pupils not turning up.