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UK aims to boost pandemic ‘catch-up’ tutoring plan with new partnerships

The UK government is seeking to boost its coronavirus pandemic “catch-up” tutoring programme, which has been plagued by outsourcing problems, by signing new contracts with three providers from the private and non-profit sectors.

Education software providers the Tribal Group; consultancy Cognition Education; and non-profit Education Development Trust have signed a two-year deal with the Department for Education to deliver the National Tutoring Programme.

The deals, announced on Tuesday, signal a change in the government’s catch-up policy after Randstad, a multinational human resources company, was dropped following criticisms of its delivery that was described as “shambolic” by tutoring groups.

The programme covers three main strands — quality assurance of tutoring companies, recruitment and training — and was created to provide tutoring sessions to millions of children to catch up on learning lost during the pandemic.

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Figures released on Tuesday by the government showed that 1.8mn tutoring sessions have been delivered by the tutoring programme this academic year out of a target of 2mn. 

However, only a fraction, around 201,000, were arranged through Randstad, despite the company being contracted as the main route for booking tutoring sessions, with some 1.43mn sessions booked directly by schools.

Schools said that booking sessions through Randstad involved a “not workable” booking platform, leading MPs to say that the company was “not delivering”. The DfE dropped Randstad as a partner in March.

Under the new approach a £349mn government subsidy for tutoring will go to schools to book sessions for pupils from a list of providers that Tribal Group has been contracted to check meet quality standards.

Kathryn Harris-Gurner, head of operations at Tribal Group, said it had worked closely with schools, government and tutoring providers to ensure “high standards” across the system.

Schools can also hire “academic mentors”, recruited by Cognition Education, while Education Development Trust won the contract to provide training for tutors.

Government tender documents showed that the value of contracts offered to companies to check the quality of tuition providers was £2.5mn. Training and recruitment contracts were between £7mn and £8mn, according to the data.

John Nichols, president of sector body the Tutor’s Association, said that whether the partnership was a “success story” depended on contractors listening to schools and tutors.

“It is of paramount importance that the new providers work constructively with the tuition sector,” he said. “Time will tell if the new contractors are up to the challenge or not.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, a union, said it was positive that the tutoring programme had been “simplified”, with all money going directly to schools.

But its success could be limited by a 75 per cent cut to the government tutoring subsidy this year, which will fall to 60 per cent in 2023, leaving schools to pay more. “The programme represents a considerable cost to schools to deliver from budgets that are under extreme pressure,” he said.

Randstad confirmed on Tuesday that it had bid to participate in the new phase of the programme. It said it had been “heavily invested” in the scheme and was “disappointed to not be continuing our relationship as the Department for Education’s delivery partner”.


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