The NTP has been a nightmare – but its aims still matter 

After two years of changing the programme for the better from the inside, we will be going our own way to deliver tutoring’s promise, writes Tim Coulson

After two years of changing the programme for the better from the inside, we will be going our own way to deliver tutoring’s promise, writes Tim Coulson

13 Sep 2022, 5:00

Small-group tutoring was meant to be the great idea to address lost learning due to Covid. But implementing it has been a nightmare – for National Tutoring Programme (NTP) providers, schools and the DfE.

That doesn’t mean it still isn’t a great idea – but Unity Schools Partnership is going its own way, leaving a legacy we are proud of. 

We are a trust of 32 primary, secondary and special schools as well as a research school and teaching school hub. We want to work widely with colleagues well beyond the trust and to be seen as a partner in many contexts.  

The DfE has finally hit on the model we were promoting from the start 

In 2020, we applauded the Department for Education’s decision to follow the advice from the Education Endowment Foundation that the most effective use of additional funding to support post-lockdown recovery was small-group tutoring.

This was such a different approach to the more usual DfE grants where heads are left to make their own decisions about what is the most effective use of funding. It was brave, and we supported it as a trust in spite of the inclinations and hunches of individual schools because it was backed by research.   

But our optimism was quickly punctured by the scepticism of many schools about tutoring and their dislike of many agencies providing tutors.

One weekend, I made the mistake of testing the system by looking for a tutor to support a ten-year-old to accelerate progress in maths. I was offered a range of tutors at a range of prices – all individuals with no link to any school or recognised programme of learning. 

So we decided to have a go at becoming a provider of tutors ourselves – a very ‘brave’ decision in itself given the work involved.

We were proud to be approved by the NTP as the only school-led tutor among the first 32 organisations approved from several hundred applicants.

Getting started from scratch was hard, and we didn’t always meet the expectations of schools to get a tutor up and running the next day, but we developed training materials to support all the tutors we recruited, developed apps for tutors and students, and provided ‘tutor tea time’ for tutors to chew over their challenges. 

Our ambition from the start was to provide tutors as required by schools, but our much-preferred model was to accredit people schools already knew so that they could justifiably claim the large discount the DfE was providing on the costs of tutoring.

We felt that tutors who already knew the students, the staff and the curriculum were in a much stronger position to deliver effective tutoring.   

Two years on, we are bringing this work to an end. We remain firmly committed to supporting tutoring in our schools, but Unity is pulling out of being a NTP provider.

Faced with the challenge of persuading schools to take up tutoring, and seeing the contortions we had to make so that the rules would work for schools, the DfE has finally hit on the model we have been promoting from the beginning: school-led tutoring.  


We now have much greater confidence that schools that are serious about tutoring know how to go about finding, supporting and funding tutors.

We are not a slick organisation whose motivation is to maximise business; There are better organisations out there, not least the latest three the DfE have recruited to develop the programme.    

Being a NTP provider has been a privilege. We witnessed DfE officials’ efforts to promote the benefits of the programme first-hand, their endless attempts to find ways to explain funding to school leaders and to weather the constant brickbats for not achieving the rather wild initial targets they were set.  

This year’s primary school results show 10 per cent fewer 11-year-olds meet expected standards in reading, writing and maths than in 2019. Bizarrely, the same circumstances have led to higher grades for 16- and 18-year-olds.

How to make sense of young people’s true progress nationally after the pandemic with such different assessment priorities is anyone’s guess. But we remain committed to small group tutoring for all our students who need it. 

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