Catch-up tutors ‘variable and not good with children’, headteacher tells MPs

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Catch-up tutors helping pupils who have lost learning during the pandemic are “inconsistent” in quality and not always “very good with children”, MPs were told on Tuesday.

Under the Government’s flagship tutoring scheme to help pupils catch up, headteachers said that tutors were not always well trained to build relationships with vulnerable pupils or help the youngest children with their reading.

Ruth Holden, executive headteacher of Mulberry Academy Shoreditch in east London, told the Commons’ education select committee: “We found the National Tutoring Programme variable, really variable, and quite inconsistent.”

She said: “Some of those people were very good in terms of their specialism but they weren’t necessarily very good with children, particularly children who need a particular style of engagement, because they aren’t very able, or had connectivity issues or a whole host of things to do with deprivation.”

She added that she wanted the catch-up funding to come directly to schools through the Pupil Premium, as deputy heads had told her the process of applying for the NTP funding was “driving [them] mad”.

“We haven’t used the National Tutoring Programme and gone outside, purely because we felt at primary level there needed to be some form of established relationship with the young people first,” Jo Coton, executive headteacher at NET Academies Trust, which runs six primary schools in Essex, told MPs.

“Some of the tutors, perhaps, have (come) from agencies. They tend to be, in my experience, not the most effective teachers,” she added.

“Some of them at primary level, at least, don’t have the training, the recent training, to be as effective to implement the catch-up, particularly with early reading and those kinds of things.”

And Nicola Shipman, chief executive officer at Steel City Schools Partnership, a multi-academy trust of primary schools in Sheffield, said that schools that used their own staff rather than NTP tutors had seen better results.

“Relationships are absolutely key, and because for some of our children, pupils, that we serve have got difficult relationships, and have struggled to come back into school, it’s no surprise that those schools that haven’t engaged with the NTP. The children have made better progress, because they have a better relationship with the person,” she said.

She added that the quality of both the tutors under the NTP and its online portal was “variable”.

Earlier this month, figures revealed that only around a quarter of catch-up tutoring courses for this academic year had been delivered by Randstad, the provider of the scheme awarded a £25m contract to deliver it in June 2021.

Headteachers suggested schools were finding the system “confusing and difficult” to navigate.

In December, Nick Bent, chief executive of the Tutor Trust, one of the partners delivering tutoring in schools, told MPs that Randstad did not “have enough staff or the right expertise” and there were “problems” with the tuition hub.

“There are huge problems with the technology hub that is meant to organise all of the tutoring and some of us are still refusing to use that tuition hub because it’s so dysfunctional,” he added.

A Randstad spokesperson said: “Work continues at pace to close the gap on lost learning through the National Tutoring Programme, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.

“This includes ensuring good quality tutors are in place to provide high quality support – all Tuition Providers accepted onto the NTP framework have successfully passed the robust quality, safeguarding and evaluation standards on the programme and offer a depth of expertise and experience to support schools.

“Over 300,000 courses have already been delivered through the programme this academic year. Our goal is to continue working closely with all of our stakeholders to ensure we deliver an ambitious and high-quality programme at pace, for schools to help their pupils whose education has been most impacted.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are determined to support children from all backgrounds to catch up on lost learning and reach their potential.”

“High quality tuition is key to the delivery of the National Tutoring Programme and there are a range of measures in place including ensuring tutors have appropriate qualifications and experience, along with training in safeguarding, to ensure all Tutoring Partners involved in the programme meet those standards.”

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