The government’s decision to hire private tutoring companies to provide “catch-up tutoring” to disadvantaged pupils in England after lockdown will cost schools and the Department for Education up to four and a half times more than these companies will pay private tutors to teach the children.
An investigation by the Observer reveals some private tutoring companies hired are charging between £72 and £84 per hour for tutors via the government’s flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP) scheme.
Yet the tutors themselves may be paid no more than £15 per hour for their work, which will involve tutoring small groups of pupils online or face-to-face to help them make up for lost learning over lockdown.
Commenting on the findings, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the teachers’ union NEU, said the sums involved were “shocking” and the scheme was an ineffective use of public money.
The £350m NTP scheme was launched last June by the government to support disadvantaged pupils who had fallen behind their more affluent peers during the pandemic.
Schools can apply for extra government funding to hire private tutors to teach small groups of up to three pupils, but only if they opt for tutors who work for one of the 32 approved NTP “Tuition Partners”. Just 11 of these are not-for-profit organisations, while the remaining 21 agencies seek to profit from the tuition they provide.
Schools can access the “catch-up” funding to pay 25% of the cost of the tuition provided by any NTP partner, and the government will make up the remaining 75% of the bill.
Our investigation reveals that one NTP partner, a company called White Rose Maths, is charging schools £21 per hour and the government a further £63 per hour to provide face-to-face tuition for a group of three pupils, bringing the total cost to £84 per hour.
This is 460% more than the £15 per hour the company is prepared to pay its least experienced NTP tutors, according to a recent job advertisement.
Another company, Fresh Start in Education, is charging £72 per hour for face-to-face, one-on-one tuition under the NTP scheme. Yet, in job advertisements, Fresh Start is offering to pay NTP tutors as little as £16.81 per hour.
These rates are the minimum wages being offered to tutors by these companies and more experienced teachers may be offered a higher hourly rate. Fresh Start, for example, is offering to pay highly qualified teachers with more than 16 years’ experience up to £31 per hour for one-to-one tuition: so up to a maximum of 43% of the amount it charges the government and schools.
The amount of money NTP partners are charging taxpayers via the scheme does not appear to decrease if the particular tutor the company supplies is inexperienced, or to vary according to how much the company may be paying the individual tutor.
Another NTP partner company, Tute, is offering tutors between £20 and £30 per lesson to teach disadvantaged pupils remotely under the government programme. This company, which offers only online tutoring through the NTP scheme, is charging schools and the government a total hourly fee of £80 for providing private tuition to groups of three pupils online.
“It’s clear that the fee that’s being withheld by agencies for administering this scheme is excessive –and that means taxpayers’ money is being spent on administration, rather than being delivered directly to schools, who could employ their own staff to do the tutoring,” said Bousted. “If the money had been given directly to schools, then more of that money could have been spent on hiring tutors.”
The NTP said it would be “completely inaccurate” to imply that 80% of NTP funding is not being spent on tuition.
A spokesperson said the fees companies charge for tutoring through the NTP must cover the cost of providing equipment, training and support to tutors, hosting tutoring on online platforms securely and carrying out “central quality assurance processes” that monitor delivery of the scheme. There are also costs associated with administration, preparing and evaluating lessons, safeguarding children and liaising with schools about the scheme.
“To use the base hourly rate for the total being spent on tutoring is misleading and, quite simply, wrong,” an NTP spokesperson said. He added that some of the more costly tutoring that NTP partners provide is very specialised. “For example, some of White Rose NTP tutors are senior leaders, so their hourly rate is much higher than a newly qualified teacher, [while] Fresh Start offers highly specialist tutoring for pupils with special educational needs.” NTP said the average total price of tutoring across all its partners is £19 per hour per pupil.