Far fewer poorer pupils than expected received tutoring under the flagship catch-up scheme last year, ministers have revealed after a four-month freedom of information battle.
The Dutch HR company Randstad was axed from running the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) last year after slow take-up in the routes it was responsible for.
Sixty-five per cent of the tutoring provided under the tuition partners’ arm – the key catch-up route run by Randstad – was supposed to reach disadvantaged pupils.
But internal performance reports obtained under FOI by Schools Week suggest just 49 per cent of tutoring reached pupil premium pupils, hitting as low as 30 per cent in the north east.
Randstad failed to meet its 65 per cent disadvantage target every month last year for the tuition partners’ strand, where schools paid for catch-up sessions with accredited organisations, the reports show.
Lee Elliot Major, a social mobility professor at the University of Exeter, said the findings confirmed fears that the NTP failed to deliver on its most important aim of targeting support to poorer pupils.
The catch-up scheme is aimed at disadvantaged pupils, but heads have flexibility to decide who receives tutoring.
In the scheme’s first year – when the tuition partners’ arm was run by the Education Endowment Foundation – just 46 per cent of 184,000 pupils receiving tutoring were on pupil premium.
A recent evaluation found it “failed” to achieve its “intended focus”.
Poorer pupil target was ditched in March
The 65 per cent target was written into Randstad’s contract for year two to help drive this up.
But as take-up stalled, tuition providers were told in March they no longer had to ensure their catch-up reached this.
Randstad told education committee MPs in January that it could not provide take-up figures for disadvantaged pupils as they were being “quality assured”.
But neither the company nor government has released the figures since.
Schools Week requested the performance reports Randstad had to submit to the Department for Education showing how it was meeting key performance indicators.
The DfE said at first it could not release the information because of “exit arrangements” with Randstad.
But it released the information after we appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office, saying commercial matters had been completed.
In December last year, 56 per cent of tutoring was for pupil premium students – the highest of any month. The lowest month was September (43 per cent) and then June (46 per cent).
By the end of August, just 6,100 pupil premium children in the north east had got tutoring, 30 per cent of the 20,400 target and the lowest of any region. In London, 45 per cent of tutoring was completed by poorer pupils, the highest.
In July, Randstad told the DfE it was “continuing to encourage schools to focus on their pupil premium pupils as a priority group”.
‘We risk widening the achievement gap’
Nick Brook, chair of the DfE’s independent tutoring troubleshooter group, said the scheme had an “identity crisis where it was unclear whether the priority was catch-up for all or support for disadvantaged pupils who were hardest hit by Covid”.
“We risk widening the achievement gap, rather than narrowing it, unless the NTP is much more sharply focused on disadvantage.”
The report also shows that at the end of Randstad’s tenure, 59,055 15-hour packages of tuition – 30 per cent – were completed under the tuition partners’ arm. The forecast was for 194,224.
Only 236,000 pupils started packages, against a target of 524,000. The most recent figures only cover to June.
Randstad told the DfE that the school-led tutoring route – introduced in September last year to give cash to schools directly to organise their own tuition and which has no pupil premium target – “significantly impacted” take-up of other arms.
This also led to some schools not completing the full 15-hour packages because pupils were not engaging or schools could not timetable all the hours.
The company said tutors were “encouraged to identify incomplete programmes and recommend pupil swapping”.
In August, 18,461 pupil sessions were “cancelled before starting”.
Randstad declined to comment. A DfE spokesperson said the NTP “is helping to level up opportunities for millions of children across England, including in areas with high proportions of children are in receipt of pupil premium funding.
“Whilst our guidance is clear that schools should consider all pupils that are eligible for pupil premium funding in their tutoring offer, ultimately it is for schools to decide which pupils are most in need of this support.”