From July 2024 onwards, as things stand, two groups of children will receive tutoring: those whose schools can pay for it from their stretched budgets and pupil premium allocations, and those whose families can pay for it privately.
That would be an unwelcome legacy for a programme which sought to support a national mission of catch-up in the depths of the pandemic and has since expanded to tackle the achievement gaps which blight our education system and have never been wider.
While the operationalisation of tutoring has encountered significant challenges, this should not be conflated with the notion that tutoring is not an effective intervention. We know that small-group and one-to-one tuition have the potential for high impact when delivered well.
It’s also known and liked by parents and pupils. Parents are overwhelmingly supportive; over three-quarters would back increasing provision. Perhaps more surprisingly for an academic intervention, pupils and students are also very positive about it.
The question is how to move past the initial bumps in the road to deliver a system of universal high-quality tutoring to close the gaps.
There are two issues with the way tutoring is currently funded. The first is the requirement to match NTP funding from existing school budgets. While well-intentioned, we know how this movie ends – with hundreds of millions of pounds returning to the Treasury every year. At a time of stretched budgets, tutoring needs to be fully funded as a standalone scheme in order to flourish.
The second is the need for medium-term planning. At the moment, the system is characterised by annual rule changes, late arrival of funding and high turnaround among the main providers. This doesn’t remotely allow for the kind of planning schools, colleges and tuition partners need in order to be effective. Government needs to set a medium-term commitment of a parliament’s term of funding.
If these two things happen, it would be possible for any government to set a ‘tutoring guarantee’ – a clear entitlement for all young people aged 5 to 19 in receipt of pupil premium or equivalent who are behind in English or maths to be offered high-quality tutoring provision to catch up. On our modelling, this could benefit over 1.75 million young people a year and deliver between 80 and 100 million hours of tutoring over the course of the next parliament.
To deliver this would require an increase in state funding, but actually, not significantly. All it requires is the assumed £150 million matched funding in NTP from schools to instead come from government, alongside the current £150 million of state funding. In this way, the new £290m NTP would become like the 16-19 tuition fund. Worth £95m a year (a level that should be kept), this scheme recognises the need for additional ring-fenced funding to deliver this intervention in colleges.
The new scheme should of course have a clear prioritisation of students in receipt of pupil premium or equivalent who have fallen behind, but teacher judgment is important too. There should also be flexibility for schools and colleges to target tutoring at other pupils who they think will benefit.
To ensure that tutoring is delivered in a transparent way that allows government to understand its impact, we suggest a clear focus on accountability for provision. Schools and colleges should report, as they do with pupil premium, on the volume of tutoring being delivered and the status of tutored pupils.
And to ensure high-quality provision, it should adhere to the current mixed-market model, which allows schools and colleges to choose from external partners or their own staff as they see fit.
For tutoring to be effective, we need to focus on quality above all else. To do that sustainably, we need schools, colleges, and providers to be able to plan for the future. And to make a genuine difference, we need it to reach those who need it most.
A long-term commitment – and a tutoring guarantee – could be just the vehicle to deliver this.
Public First have published “The Future of Tutoring” alongside a wide range of charities, tutoring organisations, and businesses.