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Axing tutoring for all is a tragedy

All three of us have held, or hold, the education brief for our parties, and two of us have served in ministerial office. The name of the relevant department differed between our tenures; the dedication to providing a quality education to young people did not.

This dedication exists for good reason. There is nothing more important than education; in particular, supporting those who start life without the advantages to maximise their talent.

It is for this reason the attainment gap – the difference between the outcomes of richer and poorer students – is of concern to so many in education – and we now know how much this was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the ways that this gap can be closed is via tutoring.

For too long, tutoring – often privately delivered – was out of reach for too many. According to the Sutton Trust, in households of top earners (£75,000+) more than one in three children received private tutoring.

In the poorest homes this number dropped to one in ten. A child’s chances of receiving tutoring was double if his or her parents went to university compared to if they didn’t.

It is because tutoring works so well that the disparity between access was always so tragic.

The research has been clear for many years – evaluation from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has shown it to be a hugely effective way of improving results for all young people.

This is why it was so heartening to see the government step in 2021 and launch the National Tutoring Programme and 16 to 19 Tuition Fund, designed to give more children access as a key part of building back their education after the difficulties of Covid: by bringing tutoring into schools and opening access to those who would be unable to afford to pay for it privately.

Implementation has been difficult in places, but we are already starting to see the impacts. Evaluation and case studies now point to this key government policy as being a success.

Simply put; tutoring is well liked, it works, and it provides considerable benefits to both children and the exchequer.

Yet its future hangs in the balance. Dedicated funding is due to be scrapped in the months ahead (unless it is renewed in the Budget), a decision that more than two thirds of headteachers said would mean they would be forced to scale back or end tutoring in their schools altogether.

It wouldn’t just be the individual students who would suffer. A recent analysis by Public First suggests that tutoring will have provided over 210,000 grade improvements, and 62,000 additional “good passes” in maths and English at GCSE, between 2021 and 2023.

These results have huge long-term impacts on outcomes for pupils, and given our collective interest in education policy, we are acutely aware of just how important it is to pass maths and English.

A strong foundation in literacy and numeracy is essential – it is the bedrock of going on to achieve in life.

Better results in these key subjects will be a huge boon to the economy too: better qualified workers will mean greater productivity.

The long-term economic impact of the tutoring offered during the periods 2021-22 and 2022-23 is estimated at £4.34bn. Where it is delivered in a way that’s aligned with the EEF evaluation, the return on investment exceeds £650 for every £100 spent.

Beyond academic results, it is clear that the developmental shadow cast by the pandemic is long and will be difficult to shift.

The issues that schools and colleges are facing now in youth mental health and attendance in particular, are also of profound concern.

Recent revelations that 100,000 pupils are not in school at all, and over 1 in 5 are missing more than 10 per cent of schooling, reinforce the critical importance of re-engaging students with the lifeline which will determine their future opportunities.

Tutoring has “spillover benefits” that show impact here, too: 68 per cent told researchers it improved attendance; 85 per cent of parents said it had positively impacted their child’s confidence whilst 79 per cent said it developed their child’s relationships with classroom teachers.

This is borne out in how parents value tutoring: 77 per cent supported an increase in tuition provision after evaluating the costs and benefits.

This is not a party-political issue. We are drawn from varied political traditions, but this is simply a call to continue what works, and to ensure a future for an educational intervention that has the potential to change the lives of thousands of pupils.

It is for these reasons that we are calling on the Government to take account of the evidence and commit to continuing to democratise access to tutoring. It is the right thing to do.

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