National Tutoring Programme

The Trust has long called for improved access to private tuition, which is highly stratified by socioeconomic background. Together with the Education Endowment Foundation, Nesta, Teach First and Impetus, we developed the new National Tutoring Programme (NTP), as a direct response to the Covid-19 crisis. The NTP aims to support pupils who have been most affected by school closures. The NTP is funded as part of the Government’s £1 billion coronavirus catch-up package, with £350 million allocated to support tutoring across two academic years.

Coronavirus pandemic response

The Sutton Trust were involved in the creation of the Oak National Academy during the first national lockdown and period of school closures. Oak National Academy is an online classroom featuring around 10,000 free online lessons to support teachers with their remote teaching and learning. The Oak National Academy formed a key part of the government’s remote learning offering during the second period of school closures.

The Sutton Trust was one of the first organisations to publish research on the impacts of school closures on social mobility, which revealed the scale of the digital divide. We called on the government to provide laptops for all disadvantaged pupils who need them, and the government committed to providing devices and internet access to such pupils. The Trust’s 2021 polling on the digital divide led us to call for further provision, and the government subsequently committed to providing 300,000 additional devices.

In our research on the impact of the pandemic global university access, we found that while the vast majority of OECD countries had introduced some form of additional targeted support for disadvantaged students, England had not done so.  In December, the government announced additional hardship funding for universities, and in 2021, the government further increased the amount of funding available.


Social Mobility

The work of the Sutton Trust put social mobility on the map. The seminal LSE study on low and declining social mobility moved the issue up the agenda. The Trust’s work triggered the creation of annual social mobility indicators by the government in 2011 and led to the establishment of the Social Mobility Commission, as well as making the issue a key focus for universities and employers.

From being a niche academic term, the phrase ‘social mobility’ is now at the heart of policymaking and education reform. In 2003, Hansard records just 9 references to social mobility across both Houses and no debates on the topic, compared to 424 references and 15 debates in 2018.

Early Years

The Trust argued that plans to extend the existing number of free nursery education hours each week should focus on intensive support for two to four-year olds from the 15% most disadvantaged families. After September 2013, the Coalition government provided 15 hours a week of early learning to disadvantaged two year olds, in addition to three and four year olds.

The Trust’s 2010 research on cognitive development highlighted the importance of parenting and the home learning environment. The Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) was set up to identify and support promising practice encouraging parental engagement and a positive home learning environment. We selected five existing UK approaches with a view to helping them develop delivery, demonstrate impact and prepare for scale up, four of which are undertaking second stage evaluations through the EEF. In September 2018 the Department of Education announced a £5million fund to fund and evaluate early years education projects focused on improving the home learning environment in low-income families.

The Sutton Trust identified the crucial role played by maintained nurseries in disadvantaged communities in its Closing Gaps Early report.  At the time of the report there was a proposal to remove the requirement for maintained nursery and reception classes to have a qualified teacher.  The Sutton Trust advocated strongly against this policy and the proposal was rejected.  In February 2019 the government announced £24m of additional funding for maintained nurseries in recognition of the valuable role they play in supporting some of the most disadvantaged children.

The Trust has consistently highlighted that a well-qualified early years workforce is crucial to ensuring high quality early years provision. This government launched its early years workforce strategy in 2017 recognising this importance and setting out the government’s plans to support the sector with attracting, retaining and developing early years staff.


In 2011, the Sutton Trust, as lead partner with Impetus-PEF, was awarded £135m to set up the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), an independent organisation committed to identifying what works to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

In collaboration with the EEF, the Sutton Trust developed the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which has since been recognised by Ofsted, the DfE and headteacher associations as an invaluable resource. It is now used by 70% of secondary school senior leaders.

Together, the Sutton Trust and the EEF are the What Works Centre for education.

Independent Schools

The Trust established the first partnerships between independent and state schools.  In 1998, the Trust launched the Independent State School Partnerships fund with the Department for Education, which led to £2m of funding for hundreds of projects between private and maintained schools. An Ofsted evaluation in 2005 concluded that the programme was a valuable and cost-effective way to develop relationships between the sectors.  The fund has since transitioned into the Department for Education’s System Partnerships Unit and in 2019 the DfE announced an additional £200,000 of funding for partnerships.

Between 2000 and 2007, the Trust ran a pilot scheme of the Open Access programme in partnership with the Belvedere Girls’ Day School Trust in Liverpool, which was then under the leadership of Michael Oakley. Under Open Access, leading day schools would be opened to all, with parents paying a sliding scale of fees according to their means. An independent evaluation found that the social mix of the Belvedere school became more representative of the general population, academic standards improved, and it was a happy place to teach and learn. We continue to lobby parliamentarians, ministers and civil servants for a government-backed Open Access scheme. It has had the support of senior parliamentarians and has been costed by the Boston Consulting Group and the Social Market Foundation.


The Sutton Trust’s annual Chain Effects report on Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) prompted the introduction of greater accountability measures for MATs, including the publication of academy trust league tables and the development of “health checks” to ensure underperforming MATs do not expand unless they deliver outcomes for disadvantaged students.

In 2005, the Trust argued for better school transport for poorer pupils to enable them to exercise more effective school choice. In 2006, the Education and Inspections Act extended provision for free school transport to pupils eligible for free school meals, a policy which is still in place today.

School Admissions

The Trust has been instrumental in influencing school admissions, with our research consistently raising the issue of the social selectiveness of leading comprehensive schools. The first studies the Trust published on top comprehensives raised the profile of this issue and influenced the 2008 Education & Skills Act which strengthened the statutory admissions framework.

The Trust’s work on ballots in 2007 influenced reforms to the 2009 admissions code, which noted that use of ballots can be good practice, particularly in urban schools, and allowed schools to implement random allocation for their admissions. In 2012, the admissions code was amended to allow academies and free schools to prioritise pupils eligible for the pupil premium in their over-subscription criteria, a policy that the Trust has long advocated for. Our subsequent work on the issue led to the wider powers permitted under the current code in 2014, where all schools are now able to prioritise pupils eligible for both the pupil premium and early years premium.

Grammar Schools

In 2018, the Government announced that existing grammar schools would only be able to expand if they demonstrated significant efforts to increase their intake of disadvantaged students. This was a key proposal of the Sutton Trust in our submission to the government’s consultation.

The Sutton Trust’s research on the relatively low levels of poorer pupils in the country’s remaining grammar schools informed the Kent County Council inquiry into social mobility and grammar schools.  The inquiry adopted many of the Trust’s recommendations including priority places for pupils eligible for the pupil premium, and that all grammars should undertake more outreach to primary schools, along with mentoring and preparation for the entrance exam.

The Trust’s work also influenced the DfE’s decision to allow ‘pupil premium first’ policies for grammar schools in the Admissions Code.

Our evidence on grammars was cited as a key reason for the King Edward’s grammar schools in Birmingham changing their policies and doubling their intake of disadvantaged pupils. The school’s policies are cited by government as an example for other selective schools to follow.

Pupil Premium

A key rationale for setting up the EEF was to ensure that schools were spending their pupil premium funds based on evidence of what works to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. Through the Teaching and Learning Toolkit and the EEF, the Trust has encouraged schools to use evidence to inform their pupil premium spending.

In 2015, there was a movement to change the allocation of pupil premium funding so that it was payable only to those pupils who were struggling academically. The Trust strongly advocated that the funding should remain available to all disadvantaged pupils, and successfully ensured the government continued to pay the pupil premium based on disadvantage, not prior attainment, ensuring that high ability, low income youngsters continued to be eligible for support.

In 2016, in response to the government’s consultation on the National Funding Formula, the Trust advocated for the pupil premium to remain separate to the formula, and the pupil premium is currently protected.

University Admissions and Funding

By pioneering university summer schools in the UK in the late 1990s, the Sutton Trust helped make the issue of access to universities an important part of Government policy. As Education Secretary, David Blunkett drew on the Sutton Trust model to develop summer schools to encourage young people from poorer backgrounds to go into higher education. Between 2003-04 and 2007-08, 41,000 young people attended 1,350 government funded summer schools.

Now, over £800million each year is spent by universities on efforts to widen access to higher education, and all universities run a summer school or a close variant of it.

Overall the Trust has set the terms of the fair access debate, prompting action from universities and the government on outreach, evaluation, transparency and reporting. The Trust’s work on contextual admissions has placed it at the heart of the debate around widening access, with it now a strong priority for the Office for Students.

The Trust’s focus on evaluation and evidence, including through the creation of the EEF, prompted the Office for Students to establish the new What Works centre for higher education, the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO). TASO has been set up to look at what works for improving access to higher education for underrepresented groups.

Many of the Trust’s policy recommendations were included in the 2016 Higher Education White Paper, including that the Director for Fair Access and Participation should be appointed by the Secretary of State and their role enshrined in law, and that institutions should publish application, offer, acceptance and progression rates broken down by disadvantage. The white paper also set out that the Teaching Excellence Framework would explicitly take outcomes for disadvantaged groups into account.

The Trust has highlighted that the poorest students graduate with the largest amount of debt. We fed into the government’s Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, advocating for the reintroduction of maintenance grants to help address this issue. The panel’s report was published in May 2019 and the restoration of maintenance grants was a key recommendation of the panel, which has gained widespread support.

The Trust has advocated for a system of post-qualification applications (PQA), in which young people apply for university after they have received their A-level grades. In 2020, the Trust published new polling of young people on their attitudes towards PQA. This prompted the Department for Education to announce their intention to consult on a fairer admissions system, including exploring post-qualification applications. In 2019, the Labour Party pledged to implement a system of PQA in their first term in government.


The Trust’s research on higher and degree-level apprenticeships has informed the debate around the value of apprenticeships. Our ongoing work on this issue has ensured that there continues to be a focus on higher level apprenticeships within government, with the establishment of Degree Apprenticeships in 2015.

Following the publication of our Levels of Success report in 2015, which showed that higher-level apprenticeships result in greater lifetime earnings than many degrees, former Skills Minister Nick Boles set out a policy plan on improving the quality of apprenticeships. The government has also recently launched a consultation on the future of technical qualifications at higher levels, including higher level apprenticeships.

The Trust’s work on apprenticeship quality helped put the issue on the agenda with policymakers. At our 2014 Higher Ambitions summit, Ed Miliband announced that the Labour Party would make level 3 the minimum apprenticeship standard, a policy which was included in the party’s 2015 manifesto.

Access to the Professions

The Sutton Trust’s ongoing focus on the educational backgrounds of those in the top professions has put the issue at the top of the political agenda as well as on the radar of leading employers.

The Sutton Trust has long called for employers to collect more information on their employees’ socioeconomic backgrounds. We fed into the Cabinet Office recommended measures for employers to record the socioeconomic backgrounds of their employees. These measures have since been published and include parental occupation and qualification levels and free school meal eligibility, which we strongly supported in our consultation response. Our work in this area has also prompted the debate around contextual recruitment for entry-level roles.

In our Advancing Ambitions report, we recommended that statutory careers guidance be informed by the Gatsby benchmarks, and that schools and colleges should be required to publish details of their careers guidance for pupils and parents. These two recommendations formed key parts of the Department for Education’s new Careers Strategy in 2017, and the Gatsby benchmarks were adopted by the Careers and Enterprise Company as a framework for best practice in careers advice.

Our research on unpaid internships supported a private members’ bill banning unpaid internships of over four weeks through the House of Lords. As part of the Trust’s campaign, we established a cross-party coalition of support for the bill which recognised that unpaid internships were a block on social mobility. The Trust’s research and campaign on internships has also raised significant awareness of the issues around unpaid internships, making their existence less acceptable among employers.

Transparency and Research

The Sutton Trust’s pioneering research has helped to encourage the government’s transparency agenda, including the full publication of national education data since 2013. The Trust’s work on university admissions by individual schools prompted the government to publish ‘destinations’ data looking at the progression outcomes for schools.

Initiative Building

The Sutton Trust’s programmes have been highly influential in the establishment of other programmes and organisations allied to the Trust’s mission. As part of our work into fair access to the top professions, we supported the development of PRIME and Access Accountancy.

The Trust provided seed corn funding for access organisation IntoUniversity, spearheaded the creation of Children’s University which is now on the list of the EEF’s ‘Promising Projects’, and provided seed corn funding for the Brilliant Club. The Trust also played a key role in the introduction of Teach for America to the UK as TeachFirst.


The Sutton Trust served on the Commission on Widening Access in Scotland, helping to improve access in Scotland and appoint the Commissioner for Fair Access. The Trust was involved in the Scottish Framework for Fair Access which developed minimum entry requirements at Scottish universities for ‘widening access’ students.


The Sutton Trust advised on the development of the Seren Network, including on the best markers of disadvantage to use and which data to collect, engaging with relevant ministers in the education team and the regional hub leaders. The Seren Network also measure progression to the Sutton Trust 30 group of universities, in addition to the Russell Group.

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