The Government is lining up a multinational private company to run its flagship catch-up tutoring programme, i can reveal.
The Dutch human resources conglomerate Randstad is set to be awarded the contract to operate the National Tutoring Programme, sources have told i.
Launched last year, the NTP is the Government’s main initiative for helping disadvantaged pupils in England catch-up on learning lost due to the pandemic. Backed by £350m in funding, it involves tuition firms delivering small group tutoring to children.
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The NTP was set up and run by the Education Endowment Foundation charity. However, sources have told i that the contract to operate the programme in the 2021-22 academic year is likely to move to Randstad.
The HR giant straddles a wide range of sectors – including employing drivers working for the food delivery firm Just Eat – and is already one of the subcontractors delivering tuition under the NTP.
Randstad has been involved in controversies in the past. In 2019 it was reported that the firm scanned homeless people’s faces in America in exchange for $5 gift cards as part of a project to improve Google’s facial recognition technology.
In 2017, it emerged the company was paid to carry out pregnancy tests on female job candidates wishing to work with the airline Iberia – a practice which resulted in Iberia being fined by Spanish labour inspectors.
The NTP has come in for criticism in recent months. While the EEF is understood to be on track to hit its target of engaging 250,000 pupils in tutoring this year, figures disclosed last month revealed that only 110,000 children had so far started the lessons – about 1 per cent of all pupils.
There are also significant disparities in regional take-up, with the North lagging behind the South, and concerns that too many of the most disadvantaged children are being overlooked by the scheme.
Figures published earlier in the year suggested that less than half of those accessing it were eligible for the pupil premium – an extra payment which schools receive for students from a deprived background.
However, some people have argued that those criticising the scheme – including headteacher groups – have a vested interest because they would rather all the money went directly to schools themselves.
While concerns have been raised about current delivery of the NTP, the decision to hand the contract to a private firm is still likely to prove controversial in some quarters.
One source involved in the launch of the scheme told i: “You can imagine what the sector is going to do, a private company delivering it. They gave the EEF a hard time which is probably one of the most respected educational charities in the country. If they gave them a hard time what are they going to do with a for-profit?”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The NTP is providing high quality, targeted support for the children who need it most, with almost 210,000 pupils now enrolled from over 5,000 schools.
“The programme forms part of £1.7bn being invested in ambitious catch-up activity, and we are working with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure all pupils recover from the impact of the pandemic as quickly and comprehensively as possible.
“We are finalising the procurement process for the supplier of the programme for next academic year, and will set out further details shortly.”
Randstad was contacted for comment.