News & Insights 9 March 2023

New research shows glaring inequalities in tutoring

Since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted education in March 2020, tutoring has expanded significantly to help address the lost learning time. With schools shut down for months throughout multiple waves of the pandemic, the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was introduced as a way to augment learning and help pupils, mostly those facing disadvantage, to catch up.

A new report, Tutoring: the new landscape, published by the Sutton Trust today has thrown more light on how the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the dynamics of tutoring and the persistent inequalities underlying its delivery and impact.

The report details the changes seen in both private and school-based tutoring, in the aftermath of the pandemic and examines tutoring impact, using the latest data from the Ipsos’ Young People Omnibus and recent COSMO studies.

Tutoring expansion

The data reveals that private tutoring is at its highest levels since 2005, with 30% of young people aged 11-16 receiving private tuition, up from 27% before the pandemic. Though many schools had been using the intervention prior to the introduction of the NTP, the government’s roll-out played a significant role in its growth. Before the pandemic, 10% of secondary school leaders reported tutoring was their priority for Pupil Premium spending but by 2022, this figure had more than tripled to 34%.

About 52% of young people agreed that their progress in school suffered as a result of COVID-19, with about 24% of young people reporting to have received tutoring from their school in the 2021/22 school year, up from 18% in the previous pre-pandemic year.

The significant expansion mirrors Action Tutoring’s delivery, which has more than tripled in reach today, compared to the 2019-20 academic year, in response to the rising demand for learning support during the pandemic.

Socioeconomic differences

The report also demonstrates how in-school tutoring, through the NTP, has helped to increase access to tutoring for pupils who typically would not be able to afford it.

According to the COSMO data, 32% of pupils from the most well-off households by income received private tutoring, compared to 13% for the worst-off. However, this trend is dramatically different when looking at the take-up of in-school tutoring through the NTP. About 32% of those in the worst-off households reported taking up extra tuition in school, compared to 22% in the most well-off.

Thanks to the expansion of in-school tutoring, the proportion of pupils accessing any form of tutoring is now almost level between the most and least deprived, with 39% of those from the most well-off households accessing tutoring, compared to 37% of those from the worst-off. 

The report shows how the NTP is allowing a much wider group of pupils to access tutoring, and if issues with its targeting and delivery quality can be addressed, it holds the potential to level the playing field between the most and least disadvantaged in the long term.

Geographical disparities

The report also showed the stark regional difference in the use of private tuition, with 46% of pupils in London reported to have had private tutoring, compared to 21% in Wales and 16% in the North East. London at 27% is substantially ahead of other regions in tutoring rate, compared to under 12% in the North East.

This finding reflects the existing inequalities in the geographical distribution of private tutoring across the country, however, the introduction of the NTP tipped the scale in the favour of pupils who couldn’t afford it in these areas.

The data shows that regions with the lowest rates of private tutoring, such as the North East, East Midlands, and Yorkshire, have the highest rates of in-school tutoring take-up via the NTP.

Applying recommendations

As a Tuition Partner that existed long before the NTP and advocated for its introduction, we are in full agreement with the recommendations in the report including establishing the NTP for the longer term, stricter targets for disadvantaged young people, cancelling the subsidy reduction, improving quality of content and expanding to more remote areas.

The real long-term gain of the NTP is in closing the widening attainment gap and that can only be achieved if it is embedded permanently in our education system. Many disadvantaged pupils are in need of tutoring support, and making the NTP a permanent fixture will reap long-term benefits to the nation, rather than it being a stopgap measure in education recovery efforts.

Also, re-targeting the NTP more at disadvantaged pupils is the key way to tackle the attainment gap. Reinstating and enforcing Pupil Premium targets that were scrapped by the Department of Education and introducing incentives for uptake will help keep the focus on disadvantaged pupils and ensure accountability.

The report backs our call for the NTP’s regional expansion to more remote or ‘cold spots’, where tutoring is lacking. The capacity of Tuition Partners can be supported to expand our reach to underserved areas and deliver high-quality academic support nationally, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

The report’s recommendation for the planned subsidy reduction to be rescinded is consistent with our ongoing advocacy efforts for the funding to be maintained or increased, as schools continue to battle with budget squeezes. There’s a real risk that without additional funding, rates of uptake in schools will drop sharply upending the gains made to level the playing field.


There is no doubt that the NTP has widened access to disadvantaged pupils, who would otherwise not be in a position to afford it.

We are at a point in our education history where the NTP could significantly narrow the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers.

The recommendations in the Sutton Trust report, if applied to the NTP, will be game-changing to reversing inequalities in education across England, benefitting the life chances of thousands of pupils.