Paying for private tuition on top of a child’s standard schooling is growing increasingly popular. But its use is creating a two-tier system, with wealthier families able to pay to secure their children advantages that poorer families simply cannot afford. For almost two decades, Sutton Trust research has highlighted the growth of private tutoring, access to which is heavily skewed towards the wealthy.
But many state schools are now also offering tutoring to pupils via the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), a major government initiative announced in 2020 to help pupils catch up and recover from disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This report takes a closer look at this new landscape for tutoring in the aftermath of the pandemic, both private and school-based, using the latest data from the Ipsos Young People Omnibus and the COSMO (COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities) study. This data is used to conduct the most detailed examination to date of who is receiving private tuition and whether school provision via the NTP is helping to level the playing field. The report also looks at options for the National Tutoring Programme in the long-term, to ensure it’s delivering for the poorest young people.
The proportion of pupils who report ever having had private tutoring.
The proportion of pupils who have accessed private tutoring in London.
The proportion of pupils from the lowest income households who have accessed private tutoring.
Secondary pupils – 11-16 year-olds
- 30% of young people aged 11-16 report ever having had private tutoring, up from 27% pre-pandemic, and the joint highest figure since the time series began in 2005, when it was 18%. 11% report receiving tutoring in the 2021/22 school year, and 12% in the previous year.
- Black and Asian pupils were more than twice as likely to have ever received private tutoring (50% and 55%), compared to White pupils (24%). 46% of pupils in London had received private tutoring, compared to 30% for England as a whole.
- 24% of young people report receiving tutoring from their school in the 2021/22 school year, up from 18% in the previous year. Most of this is in the form of small group tutoring (20% of pupils in 2021/22), compared to 7% one-to-one (with some pupils experiencing both).
- Pupils more likely to have received in-school tutoring include Year 11 pupils, Black pupils, London pupils, and those who felt that their progress was affected by the pandemic.
- 52% agreed that their progress in school suffered as a result of COVID-19. 76% of Year 11s compared to 34% in Year 7. 31% of Free School Meal (FSM) pupils strongly agreed that the pandemic affected their progress, compared to 21% overall.
COVID Social Mobility and Opportunities (COSMO) Study cohort (Year 11 in 2020/21)
- COSMO allows an unprecedented insight into the use of private tuition in the latter stages of secondary school, for the cohort who were in Year 11 in 2020/21. Overall rates of tutoring in Year 10 and Year 11 are close to overall rates of tutoring in the Sutton Trust’s ongoing time series: 11% in Year 10 (pre-pandemic), and 9% in the pandemic-disrupted Year 11, in 2020/21. However, the usual surge in tutoring during Year 11 did not occur for this cohort.
- 18% of all pupils undertook some private tutoring in Year 10 or 11, with wide inequalities in those who were taking it up. 32% of those in the top quarter of incomes had undertaken private tutoring compared to 13% in the bottom. The top quartile in particular is out on its own, with the second highest quartile at 18%.
- Tutoring is higher at grammar schools (23%) than independent schools (19%) or comprehensive schools (18%). There is substantial variation in the comprehensive sector: at the least deprived schools, rates were 31%, compared to 12% at the most deprived schools.
- Those in professional/managerial households (24%), were more likely than those in routine/manual households (11%). Those with a graduate parent were twice as likely to receive tutoring as those without (26% to 13%).
- There were also substantial differences by ethnicity. 33% of Black African pupils received tutoring, followed by Indian (32%) and Bangladeshi (32%). This is twice the rate among White pupils (16%). Among working class households only, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black African pupils had the highest rates of private tutoring, more than 3 times higher than White pupils.
- London is substantially above other regions (27%) in private tutoring rates, compared to 12% in the North East. South East (19%) and East of England (18%) were the closest to rates in the capital. Tutoring is also associated with lower levels of neighbourhood deprivation. While cities had the highest tutoring rates, this was not substantially higher than rural areas.
National Tutoring Programme and school-based tutoring
- The establishment of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) in 2020 has had a substantial impact on the tutoring landscape. In early 2020, 10% of secondary school leaders reported that one-to-one and small group tuition was their priority for pupil premium spending that year. By 2022 this was 34%.
- Between November 2020 and October 2022 (from launch of the NTP up to the latest time period data is available for), there were 2,854,648 course starts by pupils.
- Early challenges with scaling delivery of tutoring rapidly during the height of the pandemic were partially addressed by a change in the delivery model in the second year of the NTP. While initially tutoring was sourced either through a list of quality approved suppliers, or through the appointment of ‘academic mentors’, from the second year schools were given the money directly to spend on tutoring. This has led to concerns about the quality of tutoring through this ‘school-led’ route.
- There have also been concerns about the targeting of the NTP, which in its first two years had a pupil premium eligibility rate of under 50%. In its second year a target rate of 65% had to be dropped.
- Nonetheless, data revealed here shows that school tutoring has had a significant impact on the distribution of tutoring. During the 2020/21 academic year 41% of year 11 pupils in state comprehensive schools reported being offered some type of tutoring by their school, with 28% taking it up. This compares to 9% undertaking private tutoring during this time.
- Across a variety of measures the pattern of school-based tutoring is the opposite of private tutoring. The most deprived schools have the lowest rates of private tutoring (19 percentage points lower than the least deprived), but the highest rates of school tutoring (13 percentage points higher than the least deprived). This also holds for household income, parental education as well as region. Areas such as the North East, East Midlands and Yorkshire which had among the lowest levels of private tutoring had among the highest levels of school tutoring.
- This has led to a significant levelling of the playing field in access to tutoring overall. Among the COSMO cohort, while private tutoring was 3.5 times more likely in higher and managerial households compared to routine and manual households, when looking at those who had any type of tutoring the gap narrows to just 1 percentage point. A similar pattern is seen looking at household income. A gap of almost 15 percentage points in private tutoring narrows to one of less than 3 percentage points in all tutoring.
- The potential of harnessing tutoring to narrow gaps is evident, however, discrepancies remain in access to one-to-one tutoring, and likely in access to the highest quality tutoring. Further evaluation is also needed. However, the National Tutoring Programme has demonstrated what could be achieved, and it is vital that going forward we don’t revert to the pre-pandemic status quo of highly unequal access to tutoring.
- The National Tutoring Programme should be seen as a core part of the school system going forward, with delivery re-focused in the long term to tackle the attainment gap. Tutoring has been an important part of government catch-up plans, with many pupils still in need of this important support. But government should also be looking seriously at the long-term future of the NTP, and the potential the programme has to open up access to tutoring. While the NTP has had many challenges, tutoring is a well-evidenced intervention, with significant potential to help close the attainment gap between poorer students and their better-off .
- The NTP should be re-focused on disadvantaged students. To tackle the attainment gap, the NTP needs to be more clearly targeted at disadvantaged pupils. This could be done by the use of stricter targets and incentives for uptake by students eligible for the pupil premium.
- The school-led tuition arm of the NTP should be reformed to encourage best practice. School-led tuition, with provision fully integrated into the existing curriculum, could provide high quality and effective tuition to students. But the current deployment of school-led tutors does not have adequate quality safeguards built in, and we do not yet know how effective this provision has been in schools. Full evaluation of this part of the NTP is due to be carried out, the findings of which should be studied carefully, with additional safeguards put in place to share and encourage best practice. Tutoring carried out in schools should be accountable to Ofsted as part of the inspectorate’s overall assessment of a school’s overall quality of teaching.
- The Tuition Partners arm of the NTP should be re-invigorated, with a focus on quality. There remains an important role for central organisation in maintaining quality standards and actively building capacity in underserved areas. School-led tutoring won’t be the right fit for all schools, and external tutoring organisations have years of expertise to draw on when delivering provision in schools. But these organisations do not have adequate reach across the country, with many areas outside of the South East of England underserved. The Tuition Partners arm of the NTP should work to develop this market, helping high quality providers to expand to underserved areas.
- The planned cut to the NTP subsidy should be postponed, to give the tutoring more time to embed fully into the school system. Due to the speed of scale-up required in response to the pandemic, the programme has had a rocky start, with many schools yet to be fully convinced of the value of additional tuition. There’s a risk that without additional funding, rates of tuition in schools will fall sharply. In the immediate term, the government should postpone cutting the NTP subsidy, and give schools both longer to recover from the pandemic, and the NTP longer to establish itself in the school system as a long-term feature post-pandemic. Longer term, government should look at additional funding for tutoring, or ways to incentivise schools to use pupil premium funding to cover the cost of quality tuition.
- Tutoring is most effective in smaller groups, which should be no larger than six to seven pupils.
- Content should be linked to the wider curriculum and targeted to pupils’ specific needs, with the use of assessment to aid targeting. Teaching staff and departmental leads should meet regularly with tutors, to discuss pupils’ progress and ensure content is clearly linked to the curriculum.
- A course should ideally be made up of frequent sessions of up to an hour, over a period of six to 12 weeks.
- Tutoring should ideally take place outside of and alongside lessons, not within or instead of them. If tutoring does take place instead of classroom lessons, it should at least compensate for the time spent away from class.
- Schools should look at providing additional training/professional development opportunities to staff working as tutors.