Tutoring providers suspended from flagship catch-up scheme

Heads say sudden suspension is 'perplexing'

Heads say sudden suspension is 'perplexing'


A tutor organisation that provides catch-up for thousands of pupils has been suspended from the government’s flagship National Tutoring Programme – with another one booted off entirely – after audit checks flagged issues.

Randstad, the for-profit firm that runs the NTP, terminated its contract with The Access Project charity earlier this year.

The Department for Education said “compliance issues” were identified during auditing. But the tutoring charity claims various terms were “materially and unilaterally changed” by Randstad after contracts were signed. 

Another provider, Third Space Learning (TSL), has been suspended, with just weeks to make changes to “recruitment practices” or face being removed from the programme. 

The organisation hit headlines last year when The Guardian reported it used tutors in Sri Lanka who were as young as 17 and earned as little as £1.57 an hour. But it is understood the current issues are not related to this matter. 

Both were in the original 32 organisations appointed as tuition partners when the NTP was launched by five charities in November 2020 and were approved again by Randstad at the start of this year. 


TSL worked with 33,000 disadvantaged students this year across 1,100 schools, while The Access Project was expected to work with nearly 1,000 children.

Randstad’s £32 million contract running the flagship scheme is due to end in weeks after it was axed following a tumultuous year of struggling to reach targets.

Three new providers have been contracted to help run the scheme next year, but news of the suspensions suggests more bumps in the road ahead.

Jamie Barry, headteacher at Yew Tree Primary School in Sandwell, who had used TSL, said it was “perplexing, and somewhat worrying, that an accredited partner could be suspended with such little notice”.

Barry said it shows “either a disregard for the impact on schools and pupils or, more worryingly, there is something majorly wrong which required the immediate suspension of an organisation previously accredited.”

‘Incompatible changes’, tutors claim

Tuition partners is one of three subsidised routes for schools to deliver catch-up, with leaders choosing tutoring from an approved list of providers. All TPs are subject to audits, which includes questions on safeguarding, throughout the year.

Randstad claims The Access Project – which uses volunteer tutors – agreed to the NTP terms and conditions, but later “inconsistencies in their delivery model were subsequently identified” which they “chose not to rectify”.

But Nathan Sansom, the charity chief executive, said after the contract signature “various terms which were incompatible with our delivery model were materially and unilaterally changed” by Randstad. 

“Following legal advice that the proposed amendments were contrary to the contract, we proactively raised concerns with Randstad regarding the changes, and our contract was then terminated.”

Schools Week understands the issue revolved around a request for tuition partners to have 10 years’ worth of references for tutors, which some say was unachievable. Tutors already have to have disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks. 

Suspension over ‘recruitment practices’

Meanwhile, the DfE said TSL – which provides virtual maths tutoring – is not currently meeting “standards in relation to their recruitment practices” and has until August 18 to resolve the issue.

Tom Hooper, TSL’s founder and CEO, said maintaining standards and quality of provision “has always been a priority… as demonstrated by our approval in years 1 and 2” of the NTP. 

“We are using the summer holidays to make a number of improvements, including some updates requested by Randstad.

“As schools are currently on summer holidays, no tutoring sessions have been disrupted; improvements that we are implementing will ensure that we are ready to meet the needs of our schools from mid-September, as usual.”

Positive reviews of the TSL’s work from schools had been published on the NTP website earlier this year.

‘Lack of transparency’

Another tuition partner, who wished to remain anonymous, accused Randstad of introducing “new, very extensive requirements for tuition partners which were added to the handbook with little communication, transparency or support offered to achieve these new goal posts imposed”. They added requests for clarity were “rebuffed”.

However, Randstad said “notification of audit was included” in contracts, and was based on requirements set out in the NTP tuition partners quality and accreditation standards “which were agreed to by all TPs as part of their participation in the Open Access application process”.

“These requirements were also set out in the TP handbook, which was shared with all TPs at the start of the programme.”

It’s not the first time Randstad and tutoring organisations have been in a dispute, when nine providers were in a contract stand-off in September.

The DfE said it set “high standards” for the NTP and “will not hesitate to take action where it becomes clear those standards are not being met”. 

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  1. As a long standing Tutorials provider in Inner city Leicester, we were rejected during the very first round of bidding. We also desperately tried to get feed back from the NTP/DFE organisers. No one ever replied to our emails, and only found out that the contract had been awarded to Randsted Within weeks the work was been sub-contracted. Why did the officers in charge of huge public funds not carry out any vetting processes?. Simple visits to Tutorials outlets or meeting up with individual providers is not rocket science. Recruiting providers from abroad is not the answer as the curriculum in these countries is so different and the methods of teaching/learning and accents are not what the children are used to in UK. Some local undergraduates were recruited who were not even subject specialist. This time round, get the officers to do some footwork and visit these centres and carry out checks on the credibility of providers and its teaching staff before giving out smaller and viable and manageable contracts that provide quality of Education that is required. Not just a tick box exercise of 15 hours of tutoring per child for a particular subject.