The National Tutoring Program (NTP) was introduced to help disadvantaged children catch up on learning after the pandemic.
The government, through the Education Endowment Foundation, quickly spent £80 million in the 2020-21 school year on delivering the intervention – which, when implemented properly, has indeed helped pupils who have received it.
Our evaluation of the first year of the government’s flagship education recovery program found that those who had more tutoring from external tutors through the Tuition Partners program achieved better scores in English in primary schools, and better grades for maths and English (teacher-assessed grades) in Year 11.
So, a success, then? To some extent, yes.
Despite a constant stream of stories reporting dissatisfaction with the scheme, 80 per cent of school leaders were either very or somewhat satisfied with the program in its first year according to a survey we carried out recently.
The disadvantage issue
Yet our evaluation also found it difficult to detect differences between those schools participating in the NTP and those that did not. Most notably, we could see almost nothing to suggest that the program led to a closing of the disadvantage gap.
The only chink of light came when we analyzed a small number of schools where most pupil premium students had been tutored: these students had improved.
The general picture, though, is disappointing and backed up by other analyses.
Between 2018-19 and 2021-22, schools with higher numbers of disadvantaged pupils were most likely to see a decline in their progress scores.
In other words, there has been a widening in outcomes across schools with different intakes, despite the additional catch-up support that has been in place.
A relatively small proportion of disadvantaged pupils in participating schools were selected for NTP tutoring, meaning a large number of disadvantaged pupils were included in the analysis that did not receive tutoring.
Only 46 percent of the 232,892 children enrolled in the Tuition Partners program were defined as disadvantaged.
This represents around 5 per cent of the country’s disadvantaged children.
In other words, even if every tutor tutored perfectly, and every participating pupil absorbed every single piece of available knowledge, the program could not influence the disadvantage gap in a meaningful way.
This low reach also meant we could not reliably evaluate the impact of the other stream of support – Academic Mentors (AM): full-time, in-house staff members employed to provide intensive support to pupils who need it.
This was because in our analysis of Year 11 disadvantaged students in AM-participating schools, the majority of them did not receive academic mentoring.
A more positive picture
The latest figures on delivery from the DfEfor the NTP’s second year, show a more promising story.
Nearly 1.8 million courses had started in the 2021-22 academic year up to June 2022, illustrating a much greater reach compared with the 240,039 course enrollments in the previous year – largely due to the introduction of school-led tutoring.
At this scale, the program did have the potential to reach a good proportion of pupil premium children.
What is unclear from the publicly available figures so far is the extent to which those children were disadvantaged, particularly given that the 65 per cent pupil premium target for the Tuition Partners pillar was abandoned halfway through the year.
We are currently evaluating the second year of the program and will be able to report on progress by the summer.
What we already know, however, is that some schools chose not to participate in the program as they felt the subsidies were insufficient to cover the extra tutoring costs.
Worryingly, the subsidy has been reduced further in 2022-23 despite school leaders already complaining of the increased workload from participating in the program.
Funding sent to schools for pupil premium children is expected to be used to support tutoring.
Tough financial times
However, there will be many other calls on that cash including rising energy bills and day-to-day costs, which look certain to rise to unprecedented levels.
This makes planning and budgeting almost impossible.
What schools do know for certain is that the attainment gap is wider than it’s been for a decade, and that improved targeting of disadvantaged pupils is required to reduce it.
While the chancellor’s recent education funding boost is welcome, sustained investment at scale in effective tutoring is required. Short-term cash injections will not solve the problem.
What would also help schools is knowing more about which kind of tutoring works best for which kind of pupil. A program of research is needed that builds on the existing literature to enable school leaders to make informed choices regarding how to spend their NTP funding.
Furthermore, we believe teachers should retain autonomy in deciding who receives tutoring, given their ability to identify those who are likely to benefit the most.
It is absolutely essential that tutoring is protected from any government cuts and funds are distributed in a way that directly supports disadvantaged pupils.
Allowing young people to suffer negative economic impacts for years to come as a result of missed schooling would not just be catastrophic for the individuals concerned, but also for the country’s long-term economic prospects.
By investing properly in their recovery now, we can provide the best possible education to children in the most challenging family circumstances, giving both them and the country a fighting chance of a productive and prosperous future.
Ben Styles is head of classroom practice and workforce at the National Foundation for Educational Research