Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

The government has dropped its contract with the company charged with delivering its flagship Covid catch-up program, following criticism that it failed to help children recover months of learning lost over the pandemic.

The Department for Education on Thursday announced that in the year from September 2022, £ 349mn of tutoring funding would go directly to schools, cutting out the requirement to book sessions through Randstad, a multinational human resources company.

The decision to give schools greater autonomy over the Covid recovery program was welcomed by education leaders, who have for months said the use of a private third party made it more difficult to support pupils in need.

Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary, said the government was “building on the success of school-led tutoring” because “teachers and schools know their pupils best”.

Only 129,000 out of 887,521 tuition courses – less than 15 per cent – this academic year were given through the “tuition partners” stream of the program run by Randstad, according to figures released by the DfE on Thursday. Nearly 675,000 were booked directly by schools with government funding.

Since last year, school leaders and tutoring providers have warned that schools were not engaging with the program because of an overly bureaucratic and hard to use booking platform and scant marketing.

This month MPs said the program was “clearly not delivering”, with education select committee chair Robert Halfon adding there was “a real risk of failure through Randstad” and urging ministers to ensure the company “shapes up, or boot them out”.

The national tutoring program (NTP) was launched in 2020 to help children catch up on schooling missed during lockdown. It was previously run by the Education Endowment Foundation, a charity.

Randstad was awarded the contract last year with a £ 25mn tender, far below the maximum £ 62mn available to bidders.

The DfE said that in April it would launch a procurement process for a new supplier to run quality assurance and training for the scheme. Randstad will continue to oversee the catch-up program until the end of the school year.

One charity and NTP delivery partner said the decision to drop Randstad offered a “welcome reset” but warned against awarding the contract to another private sector supplier.

“To win the hearts and minds of the teaching profession he [Zahawi] must appoint a trusted not-for-profit organization, ”they said. “It’s time for the outsourcing companies to back off and let the education experts work their magic.”

Randstad could still rebid for the contract. The company said it would “look to continue its relationship with the DfE if we believe it is in the best interest of the program”.

Karen Guthrie, Randstad’s NTP director, said it had been “lobbying. . . for some time to simplify and standardize the scheme’s funding. “We are pleased that our advice is being implemented for next year,” she said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents headteachers, welcomed the restructuring of the tutoring program and the decision to hand the money to schools.

“We have argued since the outset of the program that this is what should happen and that the way it has been structured through various funding streams and providers is overly and unnecessarily complicated for something that should really be very simple,” he said.

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