“Most” colleges and FE providers do not know whether the government’s Covid-19 tuition scheme is helping students catch up with lost learning, Ofsted has warned.
The inspectorate has published an independent review of the £500 million 16 to 19 tuition fund that was rolled out during the pandemic as part of the Department for Education’s education recovery package.
During its visits to 21 further education providers From September 2021 to July 2022, it found learners were “overwhelmingly positive” about their tutoring experiences, but the quality “differed” with some sessions put on simply for students to do coursework assignments or exam revision.
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Leaders do not know if tutoring is working
Ofsted said colleges and providers suggested that tuition had re-engaged learners, increased their confidence and resilience, and changed their attitudes to learning.
However, “many” leaders and managers acknowledged that they had “not yet developed efficient means of assessing learners’ progress through tutoring or back in the classroom”.
“Although many tutors used assessment well for diagnosis, not all were reviewing progress to identify whether the gaps were closed after the tuition sessions,” today’s report said.
“In many cases, teachers and learners described the impact of tutoring in terms of summative results or were awaiting the outcomes of end-of-year assessments to comment on impact.”
Some providers said they would judge whether tutoring worked according to “whether there had been a general improvement in grades, or progress ratings, across the whole group rather than evidence that learners knew and could do more”.
Some providers did not follow eligibility rules
The DfE said the tuition fund should be used for “small groups” of up to five students, or up to seven in exceptional circumstances.
It could be used for students who had not achieved up to a grade 6 in GCSE English and/or maths, as well as disadvantaged learners who had achieved those grades but were from the 27 per cent most economically deprived areas of the country.
Aside from eligibility, the scope was relatively open but the guidance specified that providers should use the fund to support tuition activity “above and beyond the programmes of education already planned”.
Ofsted said “some groups” were too large to allow the tutor to tailor the sessions to learners’ starting points, and they did not receive individual attention from a tutor. This meant that the sessions were unlikely to help learners to catch up.
In about a quarter of cases, group size was sometimes between five to seven learners. While this is acceptable under the DfE’s guidance, leaders “did not provide reasons for these decisions”.
And in four providers, Ofsted saw group sizes of more than seven. The watchdog warned that in groups of this size, “tutoring is likely to have less impact because the content is not adapted to the learners’ needs and they do not receive individual attention”.
In two of the independent learning providers visited, leaders did not check eligibility at all, and used the funding to provide extra support sessions for all learners. Ofsted said: “Learners could not distinguish tutoring from regular teaching sessions. Most learners at these providers were from disadvantaged backgrounds and would have been eligible for funding in any case.”
Tuition sessions used simply for coursework and revision
In about a quarter of providers visited by Ofsted, some tutoring sessions lacked planning and were instead open spaces to complete coursework assignments.
“This is not tutoring”, the watchdog said.
It also found that in some academic sessions, the tutor relied too much on learners to choose the content that they wanted to focus on which simply led to exam revision for exams rather than a focus on well-defined gaps in knowledge.
Some providers also used the tuition fund to deliver missed vocational content to whole groups of learners.
Recruitment for tutors proved a struggle for some
Ofsted found that tutors were often recruited from existing teaching staff and the quality of teaching was generally good.
But there were recruitment challenges, particularly in vocational and technical programmes.
Some providers recruited graduates as tutors because of challenges employing specialist teachers, inspectors found. These providers tried to recruit graduates with subject expertise in the area they were tutoring, as well as teaching or tutoring experience. However, this was not always possible.
Ofsted makes no comment on the quality of graduate tutors compared to existing staff.