Tutoring

Tutoring stats will expose NTP issues, not school failure

Leaders are rightly frustrated at plans to 'name and shame' schools over tutoring take-up

Leaders are rightly frustrated at plans to 'name and shame' schools over tutoring take-up

6 May 2022, 7:00

tutoring Randstad Teach First

A national tutoring programme can’t succeed without being built on a firm bedrock of high-quality routine classroom teaching, writes Steve Rollett.

The government’s announcement over the weekend that it would be publishing information on schools’ take-up of the national tutoring programme was met with understandable frustration and disbelief by many school and trust leaders.

It wasn’t only that the announcement was delivered on a bank holiday – contrary to the Department for Education’s own wellbeing charter – it was also because it seemed worryingly out of step with experience on the ground.

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have noticed that there is a general high level of dissatisfaction

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have noticed that there is a general high level of dissatisfaction with the way the scheme has been administered this year.

Despite there being many excellent NTP providers delivering tuition in our classrooms, school leaders will tell you that navigating the administrative labyrinth that surrounds the scheme has in some cases made the cost of accessing the support (in terms of time) prohibitively high.

It is surely why the government won’t be pursuing its contract with Randstad into a second year.

‘Worrying degree of institutional amnesia’

But the announcement made on the weekend seemed to reflect a worrying degree of institutional amnesia in this regard; seemingly indicating that where pupils were ‘missing out’, this was down to a lack of desire on the part of schools, rather than a reflection of the programme’s own issues and the ongoing Covid-19 context that has stripped capacity to the bone in some cases.

This second point that is worth considering particularly is capacity. It’s such an important concept in education, and policy formulation more generally.

Campano and Woo have argued persuasively that public policy needs to see creating capacity as being at the heart of establishing robust systems. A system with little capacity struggles to maintain its core functions when it comes under pressure.

And in schools much of that capacity comes in the very tangible form of teachers in the classroom. These are the people who will do most of the curriculum design, the teaching, the assessment, as well as much of the pastoral work, safeguarding and so on.

Do we have enough teachers entering the profession to give us the capacity we need? In short, we have a lot of work to do.

Despite a temporary boost in ITT applications during the first 12 months of the pandemic, the latest data suggests that across most subjects ITT applications are below government targets, many significantly so. NFER analysis suggests physics recruitment this year will hit only 15 per cent of the number the government believes we need.

Arguably, this should concern us more than the pockets of low NTP take-up the government wrote about over the weekend.

‘Tutoring shouldn’t be seen as a bolt-on’

We know that tuition is most likely to be impactful when it is linked to what’s being taught in the classroom. This suggests that tuition shouldn’t be seen as a bolt-on delivered in isolation from the everyday curriculum.

Accordingly, a national tuition programme can’t succeed without being built on a firm bedrock of high-quality routine classroom teaching. This requires us to attract much larger numbers of entrants into the profession over the next few years.

Some work has been done on this; the awaited increase to teachers’ starting salaries is welcome. But there is more to do. And of course, it’s not only about recruitment; it’s also about retaining teachers in the profession.

All of which makes the tone and disjointed nature of last weekend’s announcement all the more frustrating.

NTP is a welcome addition to the educational landscape, but it is not itself the main fabric of pupils’ education. It would be wrong to create an expectation among parents, Ofsted or others that delivering NTP was somehow itself the prize.

NTP matters but not in isolation from what happens in the classroom. So, let’s not be distracted from the most fundamental part of capacity building in the system: high-quality teachers in our classrooms.

If we’re serious about addressing the long-term effects of Covid-19, the evidence suggests the government would be well advised to match its enthusiasm for tutoring with an equally transparent and effective strategy to recruit teachers.

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