News & Insights 12 July 2022

The role of tutoring in closing attainment gap – Experts share insights

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the academic attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has increased across the U.K. School closures and learning losses are likely to increase that gap to as much as 75%, according to EEF.

Tutoring remains one of the tangible and most effective tools to support learning and accelerate pupil progress in tackling this educational challenge. The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) was introduced by the Department of Education as a supportive solution to make tutoring available to pupils whose education has been affected by the pandemic. However, the NTP faced a number of challenges in the first two years that led to its inability to meet set targets and expectations.

At the just ended Festival of Education hosted annually by Wellington College in Crowthorne, a panel of education experts shared their insights and recommendations on how tutoring could be bolstered through the NTP  to live up to its objectives of narrowing the attainment gap.

The panel included Susannah Hardyman – Founder and CEO of Action Tutoring, Tom Hooper – Founder & CEO of Third Space Learning, Ian Taylor – Leader of School Performance at Academies Enterprise Trust, Sam Freedman – Senior Adviser/Senior Fellow at Ark Schools & Institute for Government, with opening remarks on the highlights of the Levelling Up Tutoring report by Baz Ramaiah – Senior Associate at The Centre for Education and Youth. The session was moderated by Mary Myatt – education adviser, writer and speaker.

Is tutoring the only solution?

Tutoring is a central part of our education system, with the new CfEY report stating that 70% of respondents want the NTP to continue beyond the time limit and 50% are calling for a radical redesign of the intervention. 

Susannah believes tutoring is not the only, but a major solution in closing the attainment gap, especially as the pandemic has exacerbated that disparity. “Tutoring is not the sole solution to solving the attainment gap but a really important part. We have to improve equitability in tutoring by ensuring that the NTP focuses on those who need it the most, which are disadvantaged children.” 

Without some form of better measure, pupil targeting, funding and other proper structures to collectively support tutoring, the NTP may not stand the chance of leaving a strong legacy in the system to narrow the attainment gap,” she added.

Cost vs. quality

In his submission, Sam said the procurement team for the management of the NTP prioritised the cost component over quality in its decision to choose Randstad. Tom added that there was no marked engagement with schools before the NTP procurement. “For schools and tuition providers, there was zero concession which affected the implementation and outcomes.”

Bottom – top approach

Ian suggested that DfE needs to find a balance between a central, national open source system and local management in running the NTP. “It is advisable to tackle aspects of it locally because of the complexities. We’ve got to trust schools more because they know their institutions and pupils better than national providers. Trust them to choose tutoring providers, local tutors and experts themselves and monitor using both local and national quality assurance checks.”

“If it is top-down approach using national providers, then the quality assurance has to be very high by capturing the feedback from schools on tuition providers using technology. We have to choose an approach to help with accountability and direction.”

Integrating online tutoring

Drawing from lessons of the pandemic, Susannah advocated for the integration of online tutoring along with the face-to-face delivery to reach more remote communities, expand accessibility and improve convenience of teaching.  “One of the errors made by the DfE is the directive that schools should revert to face-to-face tutoring. Online delivery has helped us recruit more tutors beyond the traditional pool, including retirees and corporate employees, who rely on online delivery to teach pupils.”

“There is a huge amount of untapped potential there and there should be guidance on online tutoring as it will attract diverse tutors to help tackle the attainment gap in areas where it is harder to recruit tutors.”

Tom supported the online delivery model because it helps to fill the gap and match the huge demand for tutors to close the attainment gap. “If you want to solve the attainment gap, looking at the volume of children you need to work with, you have to bring in a new supply of tutors. It is impossible to actually scale up to the size of helping the over 2 million children who qualify for pupil premium without considering additional tutoring delivery models.”

Attracting tutors

Susannah believes that raising the credibility of tutoring as a profession will help attract more people.

There is a huge potential to strengthen the link between tutoring and teaching, including supporting tutors who want to become teachers. This will raise the profile and competence of tutors when they see a path to teaching, if in line with their career goals.

Ian recommended that creating a network of local schools to share best practices, and experiences can help improve tutoring quality. In conclusion, Baz summarised the key takeaways from the session, calling for the support of schools to  build long term partnerships with tuition partners and support organisations, create more accessibility for young people to benefit from tutoring and restore and maintain the Pupil Premium targets to keep the focus on disadvantaged pupils.

The consensus that a combination of these recommendations and several other solutions outlined in the CfEY report would collectively ensure that the NTP is entrenched in the education system and leave a positive, long-term legacy of narrowing the attainment gap.

Do you have an hour to spare each week to help disadvantaged pupils reach their potential in school?