policy

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)

Black History Month: Breaking barriers in education for better outcomes

26 October 2023

October is Black History Month in the UK – a time to celebrate the historic achievements and contributions of the Black community. For us, it’s also a prime opportunity to take a closer look at the state of education for young Black people and explore ways to make it more fair and inclusive for the future.

Before the pandemic’s disruption to learning, pupils from Black ethnic backgrounds, on average, scored the lowest GCSE pass rates among all major ethnic groups. However, the most recent GCSE results show remarkable progress, as Black students achieved English and math pass rates similar to their peers from other ethnic backgrounds.

How can we ensure this positive trajectory continues to enable even better outcomes for young Black people in education and as they progress into employment or training?

As part of our Black History Month activities at Action Tutoring, our PR, Media and Policy manager, Henry Derben had a thought-provoking chat with Hannah Wilson, co-founder of Diverse Educators, development consultant, coach, and trainer of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practice. With Hannah’s extensive background in education, including roles such as head of secondary teacher training, executive headteacher, and vice-chair of a trust board, the conversation delved into the critical issue of enhancing educational outcomes for young Black students.

Here are highlights of the dialogue:

Do you think the UK curriculum adequately covers and teaches Black History extensively today?

Many schools are trying to improve, but they are also longstanding gaps. The issue of focusing too much on celebrating Black Americanness during Black History Month often comes up. We tend to emphasize the American civil rights movement and well-known Black figures. But many schools miss the mark by neglecting the rich history of UK Black identities. While it’s encouraging that schools are making more efforts, we should aim for a future where Black culture and identity are integrated throughout the curriculum.

We need to focus on the complexity and intersectionality of Black identities, including Black women, Black queer individuals, and Black disabled people. Our celebration of Black History should be more specific and inclusive.

Referencing a 2020 House of Commons briefing paper, which stated that Black ethnic students had the lowest rate of attaining standard passes in English and math GCSEs among major ethnic groups. What contributed to this performance trajectory?

When we look at the data, it’s clear that there is a performance gap, and it’s not just about grades. It’s also about the career satisfaction and the salary gap that many Black individuals experience. The challenge lies in the lack of representation, diversity, and inclusivity in various sectors, including education and employment. Schools need to be more intentional about who they present as role models to show what is possible. If we want to change these patterns, we need to disrupt the status quo and create a conscious investment in mentoring, coaching, and advocating for individuals to access opportunities that might not have been available to them otherwise.

Representation within the workforce is another key aspect. We need to address the lack of Black representation in leadership positions, not only in schools but also in higher education.

Research has shown that disadvantage starts very early in a child’s life. Children from low-income backgrounds often begin school four and a half months behind their more affluent peers. What can be done in the early years to help break this cycle of disadvantage and ensure that young Black people make progress and catch up?

It’s important to start with the curriculum. The curriculum in the early years should be diverse and inclusive. We need to focus on representation and ensure that Black children see themselves reflected in the materials, stories, and experiences they encounter. However, we need to move beyond simply adding diversity as a “bolt-on.” The representation should be integral to the curriculum, not an afterthought. We also need to consider the intersectionality of identities and recognize the unique experiences of Black children. Ultimately, we must work to dismantle systemic and structural barriers by creating intentional strategies that promote inclusivity.

Black History Month - young pupils

Moving to the primary and secondary levels, are there specific policies that can help address performance inequalities at these stages, beyond tutoring?

It has to start with the curriculum, surely tutoring and mentoring all of those interventions like mediation support mechanisms are so powerful, we know that make up the difference. But what are we actually doing to challenge the root causes? We have to stop softball. We’re often throwing money at the problem, but not actually fixing the problems or doing things differently. We need to revisit and rethink how we structure the school day, who is doing the teaching, what is being taught, and how it’s being taught.

There’s a need for a fundamental disruption in the way we approach education. Schools should think about the intersectionality of identities and be intentional about representation and cultural relevance in their pedagogy. It’s not enough to provide pockets of representation; we must ensure that representation is consistent across the curriculum. We need to address the concrete ceiling that often prevents Black individuals from accessing leadership opportunities. Career guidance, sponsorship, and mentoring should be part of the solution to break these patterns. Collective action is essential to create lasting change.

Shifting our focus to parents and guardians, they play a crucial role in a child’s early years and education. What can parents and guardians do to contribute to positive change within the education system?

Schools need to work more closely with parents and create a partnership based on equity and democracy. Often, schools tell parents what they need to do, and there’s an imbalance in the power dynamic. We need to involve parents in the decision-making process and truly listen to their voices and perspectives. Thinking about how we work with parents and create a true partnership and collaboration. That to me, is what some schools perhaps need to revisit – their kind of plans, commitment, or the ways they work with different stakeholders. Engaging parents more closely is definitely a way of helping them get involved in schools so they’re part of that change cycle.

Finally, in the context of Black History Month and improving outcomes for young Black people, what is your call to action for everyone?

My call to action is for more individuals, particularly those in White-majority spaces, to become allies. Reflect on your own experiences with schooling, curriculum, and identity affirmation. Recognize that representation and diversity matter. Challenge the gaps and biases in the system, and work intentionally to create change. Be aware of the positive impact that representation can have on young people. It’s essential to disrupt stereotypes and ensure representation is consistent across all subjects. We need to take collective action to create a more inclusive and equitable education system.

Targeted support for young Black people

Hannah’s insights underscore the urgency of addressing the disparities in our education system. By offering targeted support, improving the curriculum, breaking systematic barriers and taking collective action, we not only acknowledge the unique challenges young Black people might encounter but also send a powerful message that their experiences, voices, and perspectives matter. Ultimately, nurturing Black pupils’ growth and well-being not only enriches their educational journey but also contributes to a more diverse, empathetic, and socially conscious society as a whole.

As Black History Month is being marked across the UK, let’s heed the call to action and take collective steps toward a more and empowering education system that taps and nurtures the potential of all young Black students.

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.