Labour has accused the government of outsourcing its flagship national tutoring programme, designed to help the most disadvantaged children catch up after the Covid pandemic, to a giant human resources conglomerate “with little tutoring experience”.
The £25m contract to provide one-to-one and small-group tuition, which is at the heart of the government’s catch-up programme for England’s children, has been handed to the vast Dutch multinational company Randstad, it was confirmed this week.
It is understood that Randstad, which has offices in 38 countries spread across five continents and an annual turnover of £17bn, put in a significantly cheaper bid than its only rival in the tendering process, raising concerns that the government has prioritised cost over quality.
“Failing to properly fund our children’s education while handing over a contract to a private company with little tutoring experience lays bare the Conservatives’ failure to provide the support children need to bounce back from the pandemic,” the shadow education secretary, Kate Green, told the Guardian.
“The Conservatives have serious questions to answer about the suitability of Randstad, a human resources company, to deliver tutoring for our children. Ministers must provide absolute assurance that quality will not be compromised.”
Labour’s assault comes as the government reels from the resignation on Wednesday of Sir Kevan Collins, appointed four months ago to draw up long-term catch-up plans for children whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic.
He quit after the budget for his ambitious £15bn strategy to address the crisis in education in England was slashed to just £1.4bn following Treasury intervention. In his resignation letter, Collins told the prime minister: “I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size.”
Randstad provides global HR services across a wide variety of sectors including construction, social care, financial services and IT. Two years ago, subcontracted workers employed by Randstad were reported to have been collecting face scans of homeless people in the US in exchange for $5 gift cards as part of a Google project to improve facial recognition technology.
The recruitment giant was also hired to carry out pregnancy tests on women applying for jobs with the airline Iberia, which was subsequently fined £22,000 by Spanish authorities. Randstad has been approached for comment regarding these incidents.
According to the Department for Education (DfE), the additional funding will bring total investment to over £3bn and provide up to 100m hours of free tuition to help children catch up on learning lost during the pandemic, but Labour said it was too little.
Green said: “The national tutoring programme (NTP) is reaching just 1% of pupils and this week’s announcement will provide pupils with less than one hour of tutoring per fortnight. Labour’s recovery plan would ensure this support is available to all pupils who need it.”
Labour has proposed an extra £14.7bn over the next two years to ensure that pupils catch up and to reduce extra attainment gaps created by the disruption.
Randstad is one of the NTP’s tuition partners, providing tutoring sessions in English schools. Its rival for the contract to run year two of the tutoring scheme was the newly formed National Tutoring Foundation, which was set up by the Education Endowment Foundation, one of five charities running the NTP, and led by Christine Gilbert, a former head of Ofsted.
She said: “The National Tutoring Foundation was set up to provide a charity-led option focused on supporting disadvantaged children. Our bid was grounded in quality and evidence, and we are of course disappointed not to have been successful.”
A statement from Randstad UK said: “We are thrilled to have been awarded the NTP contract, which we know from our experience as one of the largest tuition providers in the first year of the programme, could not be more important for the future of England’s children.
“We will build on the Education Endowment Foundation’s hard work and achievements to date in their delivery of the NTP, and will work to ensure that pupils from all backgrounds are at the front and centre of our approach.
“We will now be putting all our energy into making sure the NTP is delivered to the highest possible standard to help close the disadvantage gap exacerbated by the pandemic.”
A DfE spokesperson said Randstad had over 20 years of experience in the education sector, including working closely with schools. “It also has a strong understanding of the NTP, having worked as a tuition partner in the current academic year,” they said.
“Tuition will remain of the highest quality and, with the support of Teach First to set up the next phase, Randstad will be fundamental in delivering the £1bn expansion of tutoring announced by the government this week, helping hundreds of thousands of young people to recover from the impact of the pandemic.”