Professional tutors call for inquiry into catch-up scheme for pupils

A group representing professional tutors has called for a public inquiry into the running of the government’s national tutoring programme designed to help children catch up with lost learning, saying that the programme’s managers ignored its offers of help.

The Tutors’ Association, which says it represents more than 40,000 tutors in the UK, said the national programme’s managers “strongly favoured organisations with which they had worked before ahead of professional tutoring organisations” and in some cases selected providers with no track record of delivering tuition to schoolchildren or those relying on inexperienced volunteers.

John Nichols, president of the Tutors’ Association, disse: “Disadvantaged children are getting a bad deal. It’s like the food parcels all over again,” referring to the scandal during the Christmas holidays when some school meal providers were found to be supplying inadequate or over-priced lunch packages.

Nichols claimed the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), one of the key managers of the programme, had preferred to recruit providers from organisations it had previously worked with, and appeared reluctant to tap the existing tutoring industry.

The national tutoring programme (NTP) is the government’s flagship effort to accelerate learning for children who have missed out on education during the lockdowns and disruption since the coronavirus pandemic began last year. Schools can choose from a list of approved tuition partners and pay 25% of the cost while the government picks up the rest of the cost.

The government is committing £350m to the NTP to provide subsidised one-on-one or small group tutoring to schools in England. A £130m contract to run year two of the scheme is out for tender.

La settimana scorsa the Guardian revealed that one of the 33 providers approved by the EEF, Third Space Learning, was employing tutors in Sri Lanka as young as 17 and paid as little as £1.50 (425 Sri Lankan rupees) for each session of tuition. After the Guardian’s revelations the Department for Education (DfE) announced the suspension of the NTP’s use of under-18s as tutors, and pledged a review of the use of overseas-based tutors in the coming year.

The statement by the Tutors’ Association said the use of underage, low-paid tutors was “only the tip of an iceberg of mismanagement of public money”. It noted that Nesta, one of the organisations working with the EEF to manage the first phase of the NTP, is an investor in Third Space Learning.

Nicholls said that consortiums of professional tutoring agencies had applied to the EEF to be included as providers, offering “competitive” rates including around £20 a session for experienced tutors, but were turned down for reasons he found hard to understand.

UN report by the National Audit Office scoperto che solo 41,000 children had received tutoring in February, out of the 125,000 forecast. Just 44% were eligible for pupil premium funding. “This raises questions over the extent to which the scheme will reach the most disadvantaged children,” the NAO warned.

A spokesperson for the NTP said the programme and the EEF have been transparent about the selection process involving tuition partners, and that since July last year it has held nearly eight hours of meetings with the Tutors’ Association.

“It is incorrect to suggest that EEF selected tuition partners based on whether they had a prior connection with charities that collaborated to create the NTP. Nesta had no role in assessment or accreditation of tuition partners,” the NTP said.

“The Tutors’ Association is a paid-for membership organisation whose members expect it to represent their interests, and many of them were understandably disappointed not to be shortlisted as tuition partners. Feedback was offered to all unsuccessful organisations.”

A spokesperson for the DfE said the NTP had now enrolled more than 150,000 students across almost 5,000 schools, with a target of 250,000 students this year.

“Feedback from schools involved in the programme has been overwhelmingly positive, and all tutoring organisations were assessed against stringent standards before being accepted as partners to the programme,” the DfE said.

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