Tutoring scheme ‘failed’ in aim to help poorest pupils, study finds

National Tutoring Programme helped boost results, but long-awaited evaluation found most catch-up done in lesson time

National Tutoring Programme helped boost results, but long-awaited evaluation found most catch-up done in lesson time

The NTP programme should be extended, a new Sutton Trust report suggests

The early National Tutoring Programme “failed” to achieve its “intended focus” on helping disadvantaged pupils catch up, a long-awaited evaluation has said.

The independent study of the £82 million first year of the NTP has been published today – nearly two years since its launch in schools. It was part of a £350 million catch-up package.

It looked at how students eligible for pupil premium performed through the two pillars in the 2020-21 academic year – tuition partners, run by the Education Endowment Foundation and academic mentors, run by Teach First. 

The programme was focused on disadvantaged pupils, but schools had discretion on who to target. 

But the National Foundation for Education Research said its “limited reach” across pupil premium pupils meant benefits were “difficult to detect”.

Here’s what you need to know

1. More tutoring = better grades …

First up, the good(ish) news.

NFER compared pupil premium students in schools using tuition partners against those that did not use it.

Researchers found that “higher amounts” of tutoring were associated with better teacher assessed grades (when exams were cancelled) at year 11 in English and in maths through tuition partners.

For schools where 70 per cent of pupil premium GCSE students for tutoring, two months additional progress was made in maths and English.

But EEF’s own toolkit on small group tuition says the impact is on average four months’ progress over the course of a year.

However, NFER said analysis was based on small samples of tuition partner schools and there are other competing factors, such as these schools being more likely to be rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. 

“Methodological challenges” in the study also mean there should be caution on interpreting the findings, researchers added.

At primary schools, NFER found a 12-hour block of tutoring had an eight-point increase in final English assessment for students. The same month-equivalent comparison could not be made.

2. But NTP ‘failed to achieve its focus’

There was no pupil premium target for tuition’s partner’s inaugural year and schools had discretion on who needed tutoring the most, but with a focus on disadvantaged pupils. 

Just 46 per cent of 184,000 pupils receiving tutoring through this pillar – run by the Education Endowment Foundation – were pupil premium students. 

An additional 48,000 pupils had missing or withdrawn data on pupil premium eligibility for the evaluation.

NFER said: “The lack of clarity in the pupil selection guidance for the TP programme resulted in failure to achieve the intended focus on socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils.”

Future programmes should have clearer goals and guidance on pupil selection or acknowledge that schools may have different views about which of their pupils most need the intervention. 

But they acknowledge delivery of the NTP took place “under extreme and unprecedent circumstances” due to the pandemic and January 2021 lockdown.

They add that while pupil premium targeting was “below expectations”, these pupils were still “overrepresented” in tuition data compared to the national average of 24 per cent eligibility.

School leaders were most likely to use teacher assessment to identify students needing tutoring (78 per cent) above pupil premium eligibility (74 per cent). 

But Nick Brook, deputy general secretary at heads’ union NAHT, said: “The achievement gap between poorer pupils and their more affluent peers is at a ten-year high. If the NTP is to help narrow the gap going forward, it is essential that it is precisely targeted at those that need it most.”

tutoring nick brook

3. Over a third did not complete tutoring

Just over half – 56 per cent – of pupils attended 12 or more hours of tutoring. NFER said that by the end of year 1, a “substantial minority” of pupils – 35 per cent – did not receive a full block, with another eight per cent having “missing data”. 

On average at pupil level, primary school pupils had received 8.8 hours of tuition in English and 8.9 hours in maths prior to assessments around June and July.

In year 11, this was 7.6 hours in English and 8.4 hours in maths by the time TAGs were submitted in June. 

NFER said attendance was felt to be higher “where schools had the capacity to proactively monitor it and encourage it” and seemed to be easier in primary schools and smaller schools. 

Some schools incentivised attendance by “offering raffle tickets for each session attended” or “providing drinks and snacks”.

4. Most tutoring in lesson time – despite evidence

EEF’s evidence said effective tutoring should be additional to classroom teaching. But NFER’s data shows 63 per cent was booked to take place during lesson times only, followed by 19 per cent outside lessons times. Another 18 per cent had a mix of both. 

Almost two-thirds of school staff reported that reduced time spent by pupils in lessons was the most common challenge for the programme. 

Over a quarter – 26 per cent – of 777 staff said that tuition had led to pupils falling behind in lessons. 

But researchers found that for primary English, sessions during school hours were associated with better English scores than a mix of both. 

5. No conclusion academic mentor scheme

NFER was unable to conclude whether academic mentoring – run by Teach First – had an impact due to the low number of pupil premium students taking part.

They said there is a “degree of uncertainty” on results showing that it gave pupil premium students one-month additional progress in maths in year 11. 

Ben Styles, NFER’s head of classroom practice and workforce, said: “As schools now receive funding to spend on whichever model of tutoring they choose, it is vital that the research community provides them with the evidence they need to guide decisions.”

6. Do more to target poorer pupils, DfE told

NFER said “more should be done” to target support at disadvantaged pupils.

But this year, under Randstad, a new 65 per cent pupil premium target was ditched – with no target publicly announced for year three either.

Researchers also said schools need “greater clarity” about the expectations of their role in managing and delivering different kinds of tutoring. They should also be given additional support where necessary.

Schools and tutors need to “work together” on to ensure tutoring is aligned with and additional to classroom teaching, tailored to pupils’ needs and that pupils complete their tuition.

Finally, NFER said an evaluation programme should explore which models of tutoring are most effective for which pupils, and when. They suggest this could be done through randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have taken on board feedback from schools and stakeholders, which is why this year we have provided £349 million of tutoring funding directly to schools to give them greater autonomy and flexibility.” 

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