I read with interest the Waste of Talent article on the BBC highlighting again how poor pupils lag behind their richer peers. It is a recurring theme and has been now for several years.
Back in 2012, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published five studies as part of a new journal aimed at investigating the role that education plays in boosting the life chances of children from disadvantaged areas. One of the main findings was that that the highest-achieving children from affluent backgrounds are two and half years ahead of peers from poor homes in reading skills by the age of 15 – twice that seen in other western nations at that time.
Wind forward five years and nothing has really changed. The main finding from the Sutton Trust research just published found that the gap between the brightest rich and poor children in England is approximately two years and eight to nine months in reading, maths and science. If anything, the situation now is worse.
During this 5-year period, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds have been funnelled through schools via the Pupil Premium Fund to close the attainment gap, seemingly without moving the needle. So inevitably, schools must be failing? But that isn’t the case, not in my view at least.
I believe that the Pupil Premium is just another way of packaging funding to schools which was there in the first place: it is not new money per se but rather money that has been recategorised and had new measurements applied. In all likelihood, the figures remain so similar because the overall funds available to support disadvantaged pupils haven’t increased over the period in real terms – schools are neither spending more, nor being less efficient.
The hidden driver, and one which the Sutton Trust has previously highlighted, is the voracious uptake in the middle and upper classes for tutoring outside of school. Research by Tute in the last 6 months has shown that, in the current year, 24% of pupils will have extra help in their studies, and the average spend is a staggering £1,200 per pupil.
Sir Peter Lampl wrote in The Telegraph last year that “it is no wonder that a student from the richest fifth of neighbourhoods is six times more likely to go to one of our better universities than one from the poorest fifth.
That’s why the growth of private tuition matters. Nobody would deny that parents have a right to do what they can for their children. But as a society we have a duty to make sure that those without the means to exercise that right don’t lose out.
It is striking that privately schooled students – those whose parents already pay fees – are twice as likely to receive private tuition as those educated in state schools. Parents will always do the best for their children. Where they can afford it, many see private tuition as part of doing their best. But as a society, we have a duty to make sure that every child gets the support they need to succeed – whether at school or outside it.”
I completely agree with Sir Peter, and democratising access to tutoring has always been the main driver for Tute. The lack of social mobility is creating this attainment divide, and I believe that out of school tutoring is an increasing component of why the gap is widening.
Sir Peter proposed a voucher system to allow parents to buy tutoring using Pupil Premium Funds to help close this divide. It hasn’t happened, not yet at least. However, this week, a similar scheme has been pioneered by Tute and Oriel School which mirrors the thinking of the Education Endowment Foundation, a sister organisation to The Sutton Trust.
Oriel are using school funds to buy seats in our out-of-school group online lessons to support disadvantaged pupils. The Tute service allows seats in lessons to be purchased for just £10, a far lower cost than 1:1 provision, but one which is often just as effective.
Oriel have used Tute for some time to support Pupil Premium pupils in school with great success, so this is a logical extension. It is an interesting step, and one which we at Tute will be taking to other schools over the coming weeks. It is important that this initiative succeeds.
This is because the research I quoted earlier contained another interesting and pertinent fact: being able to buy a seat for £10 meant that twice as many parents could afford a tutor. Indeed, the introduction of our new service has meant that tutoring is accessible by the majority for the first time.
Our aim at Tute is to build scale in our tutoring offer to disrupt the market and bring down the cost further, making great teaching available to all. Our programme with Oriel High School is important as it can help accelerate this goal – leveraging Pupil Premium spend can help bring this scale and further democratise education. Maybe then, the attainment divide highlighted on the BBC can start to be overcome.
Founder and CEO of Tute.
A father of two daughters, Sean has been involved in early stage companies for most of his working career. Highlights include Orange Plc, breathe.com and moneyexpert.com which he founded.