Tens of thousands of pupils are still stuck in limbo over accessing tutoring as a contract stand-off involving leading tutoring organisations drags on for a second week.
Tutoring providers are refusing to sign up to the flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP) 17 days after its launch. They oppose a clause in the proposed contract that allows programme contractor Randstad, a Dutch HR firm, to “confiscate” tutors and staff from providers.
It appears the aggrieved providers, including several tutoring charities, are now considering providing tutors through the school-led route instead.
However Schools Week has been told that education giant Pearson has now signed up after receiving a supposedly “legally binding” letter providing assurances.
Requests for these letters from other providers have yet to be met and talks are still continuing with Randstad and the Department for Education (DfE).
The Tutors’ Association, a membership body for tutors, said that Randstad had made assurances to the disgruntled approved tuition partners on Friday, “promising” to change the contracts. But TTA’s president John Nichols said on Tuesday that the revised contract was understood “to contain no substantive changes”.
Nichols said: “Randstad has delayed offering an amended contract in line with the commitments made last week – by both the DfE and Randstad themselves.
“There is a real risk that providers are being pressured into signing unsuitable legal documents based on private assurances, rather than all providers being treated equally.”
Tutoring organisations seek legal advice
Some tutoring organisations have contacted lawyers to see what legal options are available, Nichols said.
Resolving the fall-out from the government’s near £450 million flagship scheme will now fall to new education secretary Nadhim Zahawi.
Nichols added: “One can only imagine what ministers and officials at the DfE will be thinking when they realise that this flagship government policy is, in effect, being held to ransom by their own contractor’s unwillingness to issue a sensible contract and stick to their own commitments.”
The aggrieved providers accounted for 50,000 pupils – nearly 10 per cent of the government’s tuition partners target this year.
A Randstad spokesperson said it was in “discussion with the small number of tuition providers on the final details within their contracts”.
They added: “Given that conversations and sign-ups are progressing daily, this can result in inaccuracies being shared in the public domain. As such, we are unable to provide ongoing commentary regarding commercial contracts and private conversations.”
As Schools Week revealed last week, one disputed contract clause would allow Randstad to remove a provider and force it to transfer its whole NTP business – including tutors and staff – to the recruitment firm without any compensation.
Providers consider using school-led tutoring route
Providers are now considering using the school-led tutoring route, the third arm of the NTP. State schools will receive a slice of £579 million to hire tutors directly or pay existing school staff to help with catch-up tutoring.
One approved provider, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “All we want to do is start tutoring pupils as soon as possible and we have schools waiting to get started. Schools-led tutoring offers less bureaucracy for both schools and providers.
“Randstad’s approach to this contract means we would be happy to go with the schools-led route rather than enter into a one-sided contract our trustees cannot in good conscience allow us to sign.”
Another source said: “We have had a record number of schools already book in tutoring in September, and it’s 100 per cent school-led tutoring because of Randstad’s intransigence. They are losing potential pupils towards their DfE targets hand over fist.”
Pearson said it remains “committed” to broadening access to high quality tutoring adding: “We will work with schools, parents and students to help those most in need continue to make progress in their learning.”
DfE did not respond to a request for comment.