UK post-Covid mentoring program risks ‘catastrophic failure’


The UK government’s flagship post-Covid education recovery program risks becoming a “missed opportunity” due to excessive bureaucracy and muddled procedures, schools and tutoring companies have warned.

The ministers pledged that the National Tutoring Program (NTP), one of the pillars of the government’s catch-up strategy, would create a “tutoring revolution” and allow less well-off children to recoup months of learning lost during the period. pandemic through small group lessons, as part of a multibillion pound government plan.

But some educators have said the program, which is overseen by multinational recruiting firm Randstad, suffers from heavy bureaucracy, slow roll-out and insufficient awareness and support for schools.

They fear that the program, which allows schools to book subsidized lessons from accredited providers, will not reach all the children it needs. The Education Endowment Foundation, a charity, found that children fell behind by an average of two to three months during Covid lockdowns, and that the gap between the poorest children and their peers had grown. dig.

The head of a tutoring charity warned that the program was in danger of “catastrophic failure” due to a series of issues, including an online booking platform that was criticized as being difficult to use, which makes it more difficult for schools to access tuition fees. They called for greater government control over the contract subcontracted to manage the project.

Randstad, a Dutch human resources firm, won a £ 25million contract in June to run the program, with a winning bid that the tender documents showed was well below the maximum of £ 62million of pounds sterling proposed by the government.

The head of the charity, who asked not to be named because of the need to continue working with the company, said the project’s success was “despite, not because of Randstad”.

“They are doing it cheaply and the quality of what they are doing is very poor – completely underfunded and chaotic,” said the leader. “I’m absolutely in favor of profit, but it’s the worst kind of bargain basement capitalism.”

A half-dozen course providers told the Financial Times that they felt management and systems issues made it more difficult for schools to commit to the program. Most requested to remain anonymous to avoid affecting their ongoing relationship with the company.

Several said any savings in the low-cost contract were absorbed by tutoring companies doing designated work for Randstad, such as marketing the service to schools and providing them with a “clear process” for how to book the courses. tuition fees.

“They are now trying to pass the costs on to the suppliers,” said one supplier. “It feels like it was launched without being ready to launch.”

Last month, more than 20 private tutoring providers participated in an independent forum to discuss concerns about the program, which they shared with the Department of Education and Randstad in two separate letters, signed by “Tuition Partners Peer Learning ”.

In the letters, which were seen by the FT, the vendors warned that Randstad’s online booking platform was duplicating, confusing and delaying payments, with schools saying they were not. ‘were not engaging in NTP due to platform frustrations. ”

They also felt that there had been a “lack of direct marketing” to schools, which could have been an “obstacle” to achieving the schools’ recruitment goals.

The FT also saw minutes of meetings where suppliers discussed their concerns. In one, a vendor reported that managers were “almost in tears” while trying to use the platform.

In an anonymous survey of 28 providers sent to DfE and Randstad with the letters, over 90% did not believe Randstad had been “sufficiently prepared” for the program to launch, while three quarters said they felt that the company did not have “sufficient resources” to develop the PNT.

In their written responses, Randstad and the DfE acknowledged the concerns of education partners and said they were working to address them.

Randstad said he was taking action, including inviting course providers to feedback sessions with the DfE and allowing them to book one-to-one lessons on behalf of schools that were having “difficulties accessing the platform ”.

The company told the FT that some course providers had been “frustrated” by the “checks and balances”, but said these helped “to measure and ensure more positive outcomes for students.”.

“We welcome constructive comments and are keen to work with all partners to implement an ambitious agenda,” he said.

Several vendors said there were positive aspects to their experience with Randstad and the company was open to feedback. Matthew Briars, director of Tutors Green, said he found the company “incredibly useful and the level of support very strong”.

But the head of another tutoring charity said he had only received a handful of bookings through Randstad’s platform, adding that a poor design of the online system had “no doubt” resulted in schools reserving fewer appointments for lessons.

“The platform is not suited for its purpose,” said the person, who requested anonymity as she hoped to continue working constructively with Randstad.

Danielle Lewis-Egonu, executive director of the Galaxy Trust, a group of four academies, said she had “struggled” for hours to book private lessons on the Randstad platform, but was unsuccessful. to get private lessons only for two of the four trust schools because the process was so complex.

She described the platform as “unsustainable”, especially for small schools with limited resources.

“We are desperately trying to offer these children the opportunity. . . access should not prevent schools with very limited capacity to navigate a system, ”she said.

The government currently pays for 75 percent of tutoring sessions with one of the 41 course partners selected and booked by Randstad. The grant will be reduced for each year of the three-year program.

Last year, the program was managed by the Education Endowment Foundation, which bid as part of a coalition of charities to manage the program. Many in the industry were surprised when they were rejected and frustrated when a dispute over the terms of the contract between the new administrator and the course providers delayed the start of the program.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Principals, said that by the time sessions were available, many schools had already decided on budgets, making it difficult to set aside money for private lessons. Turnout was “incredibly low,” he added. “There is something big in there, but it seems to me that there is one. . . window right now that is closing quickly.

Randstad said he had had a “strong and positive start to the year” and was “firmly committed to providing high quality tutoring to the students who need it most.”

He said the program was moving “at the pace” and improving as a result of the comments, adding that he had “nearly 30 years of experience in education” and was “confident” in the implementation of the program. program.

“Conversations and registrations are progressing daily,” he added. “Our goal continues to work closely with and support our key partners, including schools and tuition partners, to provide high quality tutoring to students who need it.”

The DfE said it is setting “high standards” for Randstad and working closely with it to “ensure that we build on the successes of the program’s first year, which reached over 300,000 students and received extremely positive feedback from schools ”.

About 28,000 students had enrolled in the program, Randstad said, adding that 20,000 students had already started classes. Over the three years of the NTP, the government aims to provide six million hours of tutoring in 15-hour sections, or the equivalent of 400,000 students.

With government grants set to decrease, making the program more expensive for schools next year, tutoring providers said additional support was needed to help schools join the program.

“If more is not done, we will get to the end of the year and we are not going to come close to our goal,” said one of them.


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