Ministers will overhaul the flagship National Tutoring Programme so all the catch-up cash goes straight to schools next year, with under-fire HR firm Randstad axed, Schools Week can reveal.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Schools Week he wants to “simplify” the scheme, but refused to criticise contract Randstad after its tumultuous year at the helm.
The provider has overseen a sluggish take-up in tutoring this year, with schools increasing choosing to organise their own provision under the school-led route.
From September, all £349 million of tutoring cash will go directly to schools, for them to decide how to spend it.
The Department for Education will launch a procurement process in April for a new supplier to run the scheme, on a much smaller contract. They will only be responsible for quality assurance, recruiting and deploying academic mentors and offering training.
While Randstad is able to rebid for the contract, it could mean a third different organisation to run the NTP in three years.
The two tutoring routes that Randstad organise – tuition partners and academic mentors – will still be available next year, but it will be up to schools to sort directly.
In what could be seen as a bid to ensure they meet the promise to deliver two million tutoring courses this year, the government will also announce schools can continue to deliver tutoring over the summer holidays.
Latest figures stated just 720,000 courses have been started, but new statistics, including regional take up, are due today.
‘Not a mistake’ to appoint Randstad
In an interview with Schools Week, Zahawi said the direct funding will give schools “the flexibility they’ve asked us for to provide tutoring in the way that works best for their pupils.”
Asked whether it was a mistake to appoint Randstad, he said: “No, I don’t [it was]. I think in many ways, having the ability to have tutor-led, academic mentors, or school led, allows us to create a portfolio and choice for schools to do what they think is right.”
Zahawi added they have “adjusted” due to the feedback from schools, adding: “You launch something, you scale it and then you begin to circle back and say, right, how can I refine it? And that’s what we’re doing.
“And the other thing we’re announcing is obviously the retender because what we want to drive is quality. And that will be very much about a quality assurance partner. And I’m sure Randstad will look at rebidding for that.”
As Schools Week first revealed, the DfE started secret talks this month on reshaping the programme. Randstad’s current contract is worth £32 million this year.
Randstad has a “one year, plus one year, plus one year” agreement with the government. But this will now be cut short.
The company has come under heavy criticism over its performance this year.
‘Time for outsourcers to back off’
Following the sluggish take-up in tutoring, a raft of changes have been made that water down criteria to use the programme.
NTP had reached just one third of the promised two million courses last month, but the Department for Education insists they will reach that target this year.
Labour shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “The Conservatives’ flagship tutoring programme has failed our children and wasted millions of pounds of public money.
“The Education Secretary is finally catching-up but this is too little, too late, for too many children.”
But one key charity NTP provider told Schools Week: “This is a welcome reset of the NTP and kudos to Zahawi for listening.”
But they warned “to win the hearts and minds of the teaching profession he must appoint a trusted not-for-profit organisation to run NTP.
“It’s time for the outsourcing companies to back off and let the education experts work their magic.”
Randstad supports move, and new tender
Randstad said it “welcomes” the move. NTP director Karen Guthrie said they had lobbied ministers “for some time to simplify the rules around accessing the programme and standardise the funding and we are pleased that our advice is being implemented for next year.
“We have always supported the position that schools know best what is needed for their students and welcome the fact the department has recognised this.”
She supports a “fair and transparent procurement process and appreciate that a material change in programme scope requires a new procurement exercise as is right and proper in the protection of public funds”
“We remain committed to the programmes’ principles and its delivery and still have an important job to do for the remainder of this year,” Guthrie added.
“Randstad will look to continue its relationship with the DfE if we believe it is in the best interest of the programme and all those benefiting from it.”