Education Secretary ‘strongly’ urges tutoring take up as senior MP questions Randstad contract

Advantaged pupils will see more benefit from the 2022 exam changes, Robert Halfon said.

09 February 2022

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has written to headteachers “strongly” urging them to take up the Government’s flagship tutoring programme.

The news comes as a senior MP suggested that the Government should break its contract with Randstad, the Dutch company contracted to run the National Tutoring Programme.

Mr Zahawi wrote to heads saying: “I would strongly urge you to take up this range of NTP support and maximise the opportunities available to you to support those pupils that need the most additional help.”

He added that tutoring helped build pupils’ “resilience and confidence” and that “we need every school to use this offer to its fullest extent to focus on the most effective approaches”.

Randstad has previously been criticised for providing an unwieldy online platform for schools to use to book tutoring.

“We are constantly improving our systems and have recently made amends to the sign up process to reduce the admin required for schools,” Mr Zahawi said.

“Our hope is to create a new and permanent element of the school system, providing those children who need it most with an opportunity which has hitherto been available to only the few. I’m grateful for your support in realising that ambition.”

The news comes as a senior MP said that the Government should “seriously consider” breaking its contract with the provider of one of its flagship education catch-up programmes.

Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons education select committee, said that nearly £5 billion had been spent on education catch-up by the Government, but that he feared “this funding is not reaching the most vulnerable children in our communities”.

Writing for the website Conservative Home, he said that upwards of 96% of schools in the South had engaged with the Government’s flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP) which aims to support pupils to recover lost learning from the pandemic.

Just 50% of schools in the North had engaged with it, he said.

He said the NTP, contracted to Dutch company Randstad, “has the potential to be one of the greatest interventions made to date” to support pupils’ recovery from the impact of the pandemic.

“And yet, despite significant investment, it is falling far short of its targets and it’s not going far enough or happening quickly enough,” he added.

“The Government must look again at the contract with Randstad and seriously consider enacting the break clause. If Randstad cannot up its game, it is time to say goodbye.”

In January, the education committee heard from headteachers that catch-up tutors provided by Randstad were “inconsistent” in quality and not always “very good with children”.

In December 2021, Nick Bent, chief executive of the Tutor Trust, one of the partners delivering tutoring in schools under Randstad, told MPs that Randstad did not “have enough staff or the right expertise” and there were “problems” with the tuition hub.

“There are huge problems with the technology hub that is meant to organise all of the tutoring and some of us are still refusing to use that tuition hub because it’s so dysfunctional,” he added.

Mr Halfon drew attention to the fact that just 8% of the tutoring sessions for this year have begun out of a target of 524,000.

He also warned that the advance notice released for exams, released on Monday, could benefit the most advantaged students.

Pupils have been given advance notice of the topics covered in some of their GCSE and A-level exams to mitigate the disruption to their education caused by the pandemic.

Mr Halfon said: “We know that over 13,000 children in exam years have not returned to school for the most part.

“So a system has been created where advantaged pupils will feel the benefit of the advanced notice, but their worse-off peers will struggle. Furthermore, we risk ignoring the 13,000 pupils in A-Level and GCSE year groups who have not returned to school at all.”

A spokesperson for Randstad said: “Over 300,000 packages of support were delivered to pupils through the National Tutoring Programme in the first term of the academic year, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to closing the gap on lost learning. We continue to work at pace to deliver the National Tutoring Programme, supporting those pupils whose education has been most impacted by the pandemic.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We’re not surprised that Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi is now resorting to entreaties to get schools to sign up to the National Tutoring Scheme.

“The problem is that the concept is inherently flawed. The logistics of arranging sessions and briefing private tutors is challenging, and many schools decide they prefer to use their own staff, who already know their students and their needs.

“However, the Government has ploughed considerable public money and political capital into the National Tutoring Programme and is now left desperately trying to make it work.”

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