What is a good tutor worth?
The answer depends on who you ask. Many families around the country who can afford a tutor will be able to give you an hourly rate – maybe even recommend a good one. But for hundreds of thousands of their disadvantaged counterparts, it’s a moot point; tutoring is a long way out of their financial means.
Tutoring is one of the best, if not the best, educational intervention we can deploy (outside of the classroom) and yet in too many places it is restricted to only those who can afford it.
And so we must act if we are to right this injustice.
After all, this is an area in which Liberal Democrats have a track record of delivery. In 2011, the coalition brought the Pupil Premium – from the front page of the Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto – into law. It allowed us to address the attainment gap in really tangible ways, and ensure that disadvantaged children could access some of the benefits that better-off students get.
Tutoring represents a chance to recapture this mission; the belief that every child should be supported to reach their full potential.
The past few years have been tumultuous for children and young people. The pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing disparities, hitting the most vulnerable communities the hardest and throwing into stark relief differences in access to resources outside the classroom.
Some pupils spent lockdown e-learning on their own laptop in a quiet home office, others did their schoolwork late into the night in a shared room, having waited to access the family computer. Some did not have access to a laptop at all. One way we can start to bridge this gap is with dedicated funding for tutoring, which offers vital academic support to those who need it most.
That tutoring works is indisputable. I have visited tutoring provision at Southwark College and seen the impact first hand, and evaluation from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has shown an average impact of four months’ additional progress over the course of a year.
Tutoring’s benefit goes beyond academic improvement. On some of the greatest challenges we are seeing in schools – attendance, confidence, and mental health – recent evidence shows tutoring having a positive impact. 85 per cent of parents said tutoring had positively impacted their child’s confidence, with 68 per cent saying it had improved attendance. It is not a panacea; more can be done. But tutoring offers a proven, evidence-backed step in the right direction.
Unsurprisingly, tutoring is popular across the school system. It’s well-liked by pupils, parents and teachers. However, despite its popularity, we know that money is tight for many schools and colleges, and thus cost is a barrier to access. Half of schools are not able to access the National Tutoring Programme in its final year because of funding issues. Of those that are using it, 40 per cent say they will not be able to continue after funding ends in 2024.
In practical terms, this will have one clear outcome: tutoring will vanish from many schools, who will simply not be able to fund the intervention themselves.
Killing off the idea of having dedicated funding for it at this stage would carry long-term risk: losing the valuable infrastructure that has been built to provide tutoring to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in order to help them succeed.
The government pledged that tutoring would be the cornerstone of building back after Covid, which was a laudable statement of intent. But rather than putting in the funding and thought required to make tutoring a world-leading feature of our education system, they seem set to simply give up. Tutoring will return to being the preserve of those who can afford it, and the most disadvantaged students will lose out.
So, what is a good tutor worth? For disadvantaged pupils, a tutor is worth the difference between reaching their potential and not. The difference between having the confidence to speak up in class or not. The difference between four months of progress or falling behind.
Tutoring is a truly valuable intervention. I am proud to support it. Only time will tell if the government agrees.