I expect Randstad will soon make big changes to NTP 2.0, specifically dumping their new school and tutor matching and management platform that has added an unnecessary layer of complexity (and costs) for providers and schools together with a tweaked contract (the existing one has been described as unenforceable) that will allow several of the previous (2020) suppliers to sign and start providing services.
The bottom line is that if the government’s targets are to be met (doubtful) then Randstad has to scale up provision significantly and fast. One indication of the confusion at NTP is that the list of 11 new providers posted on the website two weeks ago has disappeared. Happily I have the list and of the 11 there are some quality providers such as BYT who have been in the sector for over 10 years and a few supply agencies like Reed and Affinity Workforce Solutions.
There is one fully-fledged edtech player, Zen Educate (backed by French edtech fund Brighteye VC) who, while not providing tutoring, say their new model (really a matching app) solves the problem of ‘Dealing with an Education Recruiter is often like dealing with an unscrupulous Estate Agent’! Really? It may play well in your VC pitch deck, it’s not even something I’d say in public without some strong evidence and a bloody good lawyer on standby but I hope they understand the challenges that tutoring agencies, apps and platforms face from the idiots at BEIS and their interpretations of IR35, the Labour Hire Act (1973 & 1976) and similar.
However, my biggest concern re the 11 new suppliers were the two franchisees of US/Canadian company Tutor Doctor, on whose website were these two snippets:
- After getting to grips with his Dyslexia, Kinesthetic learning style….
- Once each student is paired with an instructor who matches their learning style and personality….
If the NTP is based on evidence, there is no place for providers whose pedagogy is based on edu myths that have been debunked by 40+ years of serious research. Learning Styles is to education what homeopathy is to medicine and has no place in the NTP.
Let’s focus on what the NTP 2.1 may become during 2021. The biggest change for schools who want to avoid the complexity of Randstad’s empire and the TeachFirst Academic Mentors channel is to choose to get funding via the School-led Tutoring option. While this seems strictly ring-fenced for Pupil Premium students, my guess is that it will be hard to enforce this restriction. It’s the same 75% funding as via the NTP in 2020; this will stay the same for 2021/22 but taper to 60% for 2022/23 and to 25% in 2024/25. These are the nominal rates set by the DfE but give the chaos of the EEF and now Randstad, I doubt this advice will hold. I think that unless Randstad can scale quickly and successfully then they will be shown the door by the DfE and government. Cynics think the Conservative government doesn’t care if the NTP fails as they can say they saw the problem, gave the money and if it screwed up then, “It’s not my fault guv”.
I have worked in Westminster (at the DfES, the DfE’s predecessor) and saw how hard most civil servants and politicians work. Edu initiatives like the NTP have all the flaws of other big ticket ideas like Curriculum Online, BBCjam, BECTA, interactive whiteboards etc, etc. I think NTP 2.1 will morph into Pupil Premium 2.0 with schools and educators working directly with tutors (individually and via companies). This close connection and flexibility will deliver the best edu outcomes for students. But what the DfE should consider resurrecting the best idea of the most unsuccessful Secretary of State for Education (Estelle Morris, by her own candid estimate) namely the Business Development Unit (BDU). This successful initiative saw a team of private sector specialists (EdCOMS now part of EverFi) work within the DfES to support policy teams, Ministers and initiatives. I worked in this team and bringing private sector ethos and thinking into Whitehall was always going to be a battle. Under EdCOMS the BDU raised in excess of £14m p.a. to support initiatives like London Challenge and Academy Schools as well as supporting over 200 policy teams. EdCOMS lost the re-tender (to a PR company with strong Labour Party links) and 18 months later after raising just £50k in sponsorship, the contract and idea was quietly terminated.
The problems at the NTP and the challenges of government initiatives to link schools with the private sector (as well as charities) shows how important it is for the DfE to consider creating a 2021 version of Morris’s best-ever idea.