advocacy

A turning point for tutoring? The debate that brought our mission to the House of Commons

21 March 2024

This week, the House of Commons held a Westminster Hall Debate on tutoring provision in England. The debate itself is unquestionably a positive step. Politicians from across party lines acknowledged the transformative impact of tutoring. They highlighted its ability to close the attainment gap and boost pupil confidence. Action Tutoring was highlighted specifically for its work by MP Paul Howell.

Quote from Paul Howell (Conservative MP for Sedgefield): "Action Tutoring’s analysis shows that 65% of disadvantaged pupils pass their maths GCSE after attending at least 10 tutoring sessions with the charity. Action Tutoring pupils were nearly 13 percentage points more likely to pass maths GCSE than other disadvantaged pupils nationally. Those are significant interventions. I could continue, but what I want to say is that Action Tutoring’s work is indicative of so much of the valuable tutoring provided by volunteers and others. We must celebrate that work."

MP and Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education, Munira Wilson, proposed the debate. She proceedings arguing for the continuation of government-funded tutoring programmes for disadvantaged children. Quoting research from The Sutton Trust, Public First, and the Education Endowment Foundation, Ms Wilson urged the minister for education to “do battle with his Treasury colleagues” and find funding for tutoring.

Quote from Munira Wilson (MP for Twickenham, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education): "Under-18s in England must retake GCSE English and maths if they do not achieve a grade 4 pass. In 2023, that resulted in a staggering 167,000 students having to retake maths and 172,000 resitting English. When combined, that is the highest number of retakes in a decade. We are setting those children up for repeated failure unless different help and support is provided."

Much of our advocacy work, alongside that of our colleagues from Get Further and The Tutor Trust was mentioned. Multiple case studies and the letter to parliament signed by over 500 schools all reinforcing the point that stakeholders including pupils, parents, and teachers all support continued investment in tutoring programmes.

Quote from Jonathan Gullis (Conservatve MP for Stoke-on-Trent North): "Education is the absolute bedrock to levelling up. It is the bedrock to making sure that life chances can be achieved. I have no fiscal rules when it comes to education, because I believe that if we shove all the money there, we will have better outcomes on health and work, fewer people needing to use the welfare state, better home ownership, better wages, and less poverty in our country. Education is at the epicentre of achieving that, and we should therefore be pouring money into the sector."

Shadow Minister for Education, Catherine McKinnell, criticised the government for neglecting the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) despite its potential benefits. She highlighted the significant learning gaps caused by the pandemic, especially for disadvantaged pupils. Despite improvements to an initially flawed NTP, schools likely can’t afford to keep it going due to a lack of continued funding.

Quote from Catherine McKinnell (Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North, Shadow Minister for Education and Schools): "The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that schools funding in England is already not increasing as fast as the cost pressures schools are facing. That means that the poorest schools are likely to struggle the most to find the cash for tutoring, and that our most disadvantaged pupils will miss out."

In his response, the Rt Hon Damian Hinds, Minister of State for Education, defended the decision to end funding for the NTP. Stating that the Government believes tutoring remains important and schools will continue to be able to use pupil premium funding to support it. This is a sentiment that was not supported by many members present.

Quote from Damian Hinds (Conservative MP for East Hampshire, Minister of State for Education): "Although the national tutoring programme was always a time-limited programme post-covid, tutoring will continue to play an important role and we know that the evidence shows that tutoring is an effective, targeted approach to increase pupils’ attainment."

What now?

Action Tutoring remains firmly committed to providing access to quality tutoring for all pupils who need it. We are actively exploring alternative funding options, including increased philanthropic support, to keep costs low for schools and continue offering our services.  However, this cannot replace the long-term, sustainable funding that is needed to truly embed tutoring within the education system.

Setback, not stopgap: Funding cuts won’t end the fight for equitable access to tutoring

6 March 2024

In disheartening news, the Government has decided not to renew funding for the National Tutoring Programme and the 16-19 Tuition Fund, as confirmed in today’s spring budget. While acknowledging the difficulties this presents for schools facing very significant budget constraints, we at Action Tutoring remain resolutely steadfast in our commitment to support pupils facing disadvantage. We predate the National Tutoring Programme and have a long history of providing vital tutoring support.

We believe every child deserves the opportunity to thrive, and that’s why we have been actively exploring alternative funding options. To this end, we will subsidise 60% of programme costs through philanthropic activities next year, significantly reducing the burden on schools and ensure continued access to this crucial support for disadvantaged pupils. We will soon release further details about our customised programme offerings for 2024-25. In the meantime, please share this information with any colleagues facing concerns about affording vital tutoring support. We stand ready to help more schools in the face of this funding gap.

The founders and CEOs of Action Tutoring, Tutor Trust and Get Further have worked in collaboration throughout this time, campaigning for tutoring to be accessible to pupils from all backgrounds. They have come together again to produce the following statement in response to the spring budget:

Today is a truly disappointing day for education in England. In the face of the evidence, the Government has chosen not to renew funding for the National Tutoring Programme and 16- 19 Tuition Fund.

Both were launched in 2020 with much fanfare, to address lost learning due to the COVID- 19 pandemic. Tutoring was chosen, because, as ministers have repeatedly pointed out, we know it works. An evaluation of tutoring by the Educational Endowment Foundation has proved it. The aims of the programme were to build back from COVID-19, to embed tutoring in the education system, and to help tackle the attainment gap. We know tutoring has had an impact, but COVID-19 still casts a shadow over our education system, more time is needed to embed tutoring into the system, and the attainment gap is yet to be tackled. Indeed, former Education ministers Lord Blunkett and Robin Walker, and experts on social mobility such as Professor Lee Elliott Major and Alun Francis, the chair of the Social Mobility Commission, all believe tutoring for the poorest young people should have its own dedicated funding stream.

What is more, research has shown that 85% of parents believe tutoring had positively impacted their child’s mental health and self-confidence. In the face of a crisis in school attendance, there, too, tutoring has an impact: 68% of parents said it had improved attendance. Economic modelling has suggested a £4.3 billion benefit to the economy from the NTP between 2021-2023. For every £1 spent on tutoring, there was a benefit to the economy of £6.58.

In short, tutoring closes the attainment gap, makes society more equal and, properly invested, helps solve the crisis in productivity. Implementation has not always been straightforward, but 5 million courses later, we’re confident that the NTP and 16-19 Tuition Fund has made a real difference.

Between our three organisations, we have worked with over 50,000 pupils, from primary schools to colleges. We are acutely aware of the pressure schools face, and how stretched the Pupil Premium has become. In the absence of dedicated funding from the NTP and 16- 19 Tuition Fund, the Pupil Premium will be squeezed further, and there is no Pupil Premium post-16. Colleges, sixth-forms, and schools will be forced to significantly scale back or cease tutoring altogether, and four years’ worth of tutoring infrastructure is now set to crumble.

The NTP and 16-19 Tuition Fund had taken huge steps towards making tutoring accessible to all who need it, not just the wealthy. In its absence, an all too familiar story will continue: young people from low-income backgrounds will miss out.

We call for an immediate reversal of the government’s decision.

Susannah Hardyman (Action Tutoring)
Abigail Shapiro (Tutor Trust)
Sarah Waite (Get Further)

A powerful voice delivered: Petition for tutoring funding reaches Downing Street

9 February 2024

On 8th February, 2024, a resounding message was delivered to Downing Street. A message driven by data, backed by educators, and amplified by the potential of countless pupils. Action Tutoring CEO and founder, Susannah Hardyman and fellow representatives of the Fair Education Alliance presented a petition demanding the continuation of vital tutoring funding for schools and colleges.

Sarah Waite (Get Further), Abigail Shapiro (Tutor Trust) and Susannah Hardyman (Action Tutoring) deliver the signed letter to 10 Downing Street
Sarah Waite (Get Further), Abigail Shapiro (Tutor Trust) and Susannah Hardyman (Action Tutoring) deliver the signed letter to 10 Downing Street

524 teachers and senior leaders from 423 schools and colleges have signed the petition. All are united in their support for essential funding to ensure their pupils receive the academic support they need for success. After four years, the government is set to end funding for its flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP) this summer. Boris Johnson launched the £1.5 billion programme in 2021 in order to address the national educational gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

graph to show signatories by job title

The economic and social case for tutoring

This move comes at a critical juncture. The pandemic’s shadow lingers, widening the attainment gap and placing immense pressure on school budgets. However, research paints a clear picture of the transformative power of tutoring, proving it to be a powerful response to this challenge:

  • Public First highlighted a £4.3 billion net benefit to the economy from the NTP between 2021-2023. This substantial impact is driven by individuals who, through tutoring, enhance their grades and subsequently secure higher lifetime earnings.. This translates to 430,000 grade improvements, opening doors to further education, higher earnings, and a brighter future. For every £1 spent on tutoring, there’s a benefit to the economy of £6.58. 
  • Action Tutoring’s impact report brings the numbers to life: a 14-percentage point jump in maths standards for disadvantaged primary pupils, a 13-percentage point rise in GCSE pass rates for secondary pupils. All whilst simultaneously empowering confidence and engagement across the board for those who received tutoring support.

These figures aren’t just statistics; they represent lives changed, potential unlocked, and a more equitable society built.

One pupil’s plea for continued tutoring

In the midst of discussions about the potential end of vital tutoring funding, a poignant moment unfolded at a recent school visit by Labour MP Catherine West. When informed by his headteacher that the Government may not fund tutoring next year a, normally shy, 10 year year-old wanted to ensure he had a chance to speak to the “lady from parliament” with a message that resonated deeply:

Pupil speaks to MP Catherine West about the importance of tutoring

“I just wanted to tell you how good English tutoring has been for me. Sometimes I struggle with and feel quite anxious about my English, such as my vocabulary, and my tutor has really helped me. I speak a few languages at home and it really helps me be better at English.”

This wasn’t just a casual comment; it was a testament to the transformative power of tutoring. His message serves as a powerful reminder to policymakers: don’t let this story end prematurely. Don’t deny countless other children the chance to experience the transformative power of individualised support.

What can you do?

  • Share this message, raise your voice, and contact your representatives! For a template letter to contact your MP about funding extension, email us at hello@actiontutoring.org.uk.
  • Stand with the Fair Education Alliance and organisations like Action Tutoring in demanding a brighter future for all.
  • Donate or volunteer your time to tutoring programmes in your community.

Party conferences 2023: Key takeaways on tutoring and education

16 October 2023

Over the past two weeks, the country has witnessed a flurry of political activity as the Liberal Democrats, Conservative and Labour parties held their annual party conferences in Bournemouth, Manchester and Liverpool respectively.

Party conferences are platforms for parties to unveil their policy proposals, debate critical issues, and set the tone for their future agenda. Party members, think tanks, trade unions, charities, and businesses converge to take part in debates and panel discussions.

Our CEO, Susannah Hardyman, joined education panels organised by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) at both party conferences, alongside our charity friends, Get Further and the Tutor Trust. The panel discussions revolved around building entrenched support for tutoring, keeping the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) focused on disadvantaged pupils and making it a permanent fixture in our education system.

As a charity that fights for better outcomes for disadvantaged children, attending party conferences helps us to advocate for broad systemic changes and drum home the long-term benefits of tutoring. With the future of the NTP and extra funding for schools hanging in the balance, party conferences are critical opportunities to engage all parties on these issues, especially ahead of the autumn statement in November.

Long-term tutoring

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to provide free, targeted, small-group tutoring for 1.75 million pupils struggling with their studies. The party’s education spokesperson, Munira Wilson MP, said the commitment is aimed at filling the void left by the National Tutoring Programme, which is set to end next year. Read more in our blog.

Our CEO, Susannah Hardyman on a panel at the Labour Party conference

Joining our CEO for the panel discussion on fixing educational disparities across the UK at the Labour Party conference were Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel DeSouza, Tutor Trust CEO Edward Marsh, Get Further CEO Sarah Waite and Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester, Kate Green.

The panel’s general consensus was that tutoring should be targeted at more disadvantaged young people who need it. Agreeing with Susannah that the NTP needs to be “unashamedly focused on disadvantaged children,” Dame Rachel charged the Labour Party to support tutoring but focus it on those kids who most need it in the most disadvantaged areas.

“We need to intensively support kids in schools. Tutoring is a key part of that support but needs to be targeted and delivered through high-quality tutors to support disadvantaged children across the country.”

Dame Rachel

Referencing some key findings from the Future of Tutoring report by Public First, Susannah said “Tutoring doesn’t just tackle academic disparities but also has wider, spill over benefits. Teachers reported an increase in pupil confidence, attendance, and relationships with others.”

Review the NTP

In a Q&A session, shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson voiced Labour’s intention to review and rectify the challenges of the National Tutoring Programme, introduced by the current government, as part of a broader effort to address the enduring impact of Covid-19 on education. She expressed eagerness to explore how to provide more tailored support for children to help them recover lost learning, both in the short term and long term.

“We know that the pandemic has had an impact and will cast a long shadow over the next decade and more because the government failed to deliver a proper plan”

Phillipson said, expressing interest in looking at effective interventions

Recommendations for the NTP

Panel at the Conservative Party conference

On the panel discussing tutoring for the future at the Conservative Party conference, Susannah called for the reinstatement of the pupil premium targets, small group tutoring and extra funding for schools to achieve the goal of the NTP of education recovery and closing the attainment gap.

“NTP hasn’t stayed true to its vision of being focused on the disadvantaged with the removal of pupil premium targets and change of group sizes. The recommendations for the NTP to succeed are: focus resources on the most disadvantaged children, stay true to the evidence base, retain the 1 to 3 group size and increase funding for take up.”

Susannah

Susannah reiterated these NTP recommendations in a recent op-ed in TES to increase uptake and impact of the initiative and narrow the attainment gap.

As the NTP approaches its final year in 2024, there is a legitimate concern that the progress made in integrating tutoring into schools, particularly its role in supporting post-COVID recovery, may be lost if the plugs are pulled. With the attainment gaps at primary and secondary levels widening, it is important, now more than ever, to make high-quality tutoring widely accessible, especially for pupils from low-income families and disadvantaged communities.

“This is not the time to withdraw this critical support. To enable schools to effectively plan for the long-term integration of tutoring, they require early clarity on the continuation of funding. Government should be fully committed to making tutoring a mainstay in our education system.

Susannah

Tutor Trust CEO, Edward Marsh, in his reflections on party conference season published on LinkedIn said “While it’s reassuring that all three parties have recognised that tutoring is a vital tool in providing greater equity and a fairer education system for all, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

From left: Dr. Sally Burtonshaw of Public First, Susannah Hardyman of Action Tutoring, Sarah Waite of Get Further and Ed Marsh of The Tutor Trust at the Conservative Party conference

Key education-related announcements at the party conferences

The Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in his speech that bolstering education was “the closest thing we have to a silver bullet” describing it as “the best economic policy, the best social policy, the best moral policy“. Although this is an encouraging rhetoric, more is needed in terms of actions and policy to demonstrate this commitment practically.

Combining post-16 qualifications

One striking announcement was the merging of A-levels and T-levels into a novel qualification known as the Advanced British Standard. The change would see all 16-to 19-year-olds in England typically study five subjects, including some English and maths till age 18.

Sunak said this merger would establish parity between technical and academic education, guaranteeing that all young individuals graduate with a strong foundation in mathematics and English. This policy pivot marked a departure from the implementation of T-level qualification, which was introduced by the government previously.

Tax breaks for teachers

Sunak also announced a commitment to provide up to £30,000 financial incentive for key subject teachers as a reward for doing one of the most valuable jobs in our society. “In order to attract and retain more teachers, those who teach key subjects in schools – and, for the first time, in our further-education colleges too – will receive special bonuses of up to £30,000, tax-free, over the first five years of their career,” Sunak said.

Funding for maths education

In a follow-up to his earlier announcement for maths to be made compulsory for some pupils till 18 to tackle the ‘anti-maths mindset,’ the prime mister pledged an additional £600 million, to be disbursed over a span of two years, aimed at bolstering the training of mathematics teachers and supporting students in their compulsory GCSE resits for mathematics and English in colleges. These proposed plans are all slated for consultation, with potential implementation from the 2033-34 academic year in England only.

Real-world maths

The shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said a Labour government will address the persistent chronic cultural problem with mathematics through early intervention and the teaching of “real-world” mathematics in primary schools. This will include integrating practical numeracy skills such as budgeting and savings, which are crucial for professional and everyday life right from the start. “It’s why I’m proud to tell you today, that we’ll tackle our chronic cultural problem with maths, by making sure it’s better taught at six, never mind sixteen.”

Ofsted reforms

Children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, shared her perspective on the role of Ofsted during the Labour party conference, suggesting that the inspectorate should undertake broader national work on youth policy and involve more students in discussions about the curriculum. She also supported the idea of Ofsted conducting a thematic review on school attendance and conveyed concerns that the current direction of Ofsted’s approach might be constraining rather than liberating.

Early years provision

Labour said it would spearhead efforts to review and craft an early years provision that “the next generation deserves.” This will include universal breakfast clubs to encourage attendance and engagement. Philipson said the initiatives form part of the party’s goal to “deliver on our ambition of a modernised childcare system supporting families from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school.

Mental health support

The Labour Party reiterated their commitment to integrating mental health support in every school and hub. “Labour will put specialist mental health professionals in schools, so every young person has access to early support, resolving problems before they escalate.”

Children's commissioner and our CEO at the Labour party conference
Children’s commissioner Dame Rachel DeSouza and our CEO, Susannah Hardyman at the Labour Party conference

Keep fighting beyond party conferences

The challenges confronting children and young people, along with the ongoing struggles with school funding and staffing, are huge. It’s clear we’re a long way from Covid recovery – rather, the post effects from the pandemic disruption will linger on in the education system for years to come. 

As an education charity, we remain committed to advocating for better outcomes for disadvantaged children and young people by working across party lines, prioritising solutions to their needs and influencing policies in their best interest.