My Political Party Conference Round-Up

As Party Conference season draws to a close, I wanted to share some reflections. There’s been so much positive debate around the future of tutoring, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a seat at the table and participate in some of these conversations, particularly those highlighting the North/South attainment gap.

The recent headlines around the continued impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis on children, particularly those from low-income families, have shone a light on the fact that the need for additional support has not disappeared – if anything, it’s greater than ever. While it’s reassuring that all three parties have recognised that tutoring is a vital tool in providing greater equity and a fairer education system for all, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Here are my main takeaways from the last few weeks (I’ve not included meeting Larry the Cat during a visit to 10 Downing Street, although that definitely was a highlight!).

Lib Dems are committed to ensuring a sustainable future for tutoring

It was great to see tutoring not only form part of the agenda at the Liberal Democrats’ Party Conference, but also to hear a commitment to invest in a future for tutoring. Munira Wilson’s pledge to invest £390m annually in provide 12-week tuition programmes for 1.75m young people in schools, sixth forms and colleges is the exact level of commitment we hoped to see when we produced the ‘Future of Tutoring’ report earlier this year. 

Ms Wilson said that "tutoring will no longer be something that only an elite few can afford.” This reinforces the fact that, in the current climate, a secure and sustainable future for tutoring is absolutely necessary in improving outcomes for all.

Tutoring is recognised as a vital part of any catch-up programme at #CPC23

On the first day of the Conservative Party Conference, I attended Policy Exchange’s Maths for Growth event which featured Minister of State for schools, Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP as one of the panellists alongside Lenora Cruddas CBE and CEO of The Confederation of School Trusts;  David Thomas - CEO of MESME; Dame Rachel de Souza CBE, Children’s Commissioner for England; and Science Writer Tom Chivers.

The theme of the discussion was “Why Maths Excellence is the Key to British Prosperity” and what action is needed to realise Rishi Sunak’s vison of young people studying maths until they are 18. It was recognised by the panel that there was more work still to do to set young people up for success in maths. To do this, we need to:

  •  Ensure that girls feel sufficiently represented in STEM subjects
  • Build a positive attitude towards Maths from EYFS/Key Stage 1 level
  • Provide targeted support for those who are starting to fall behind

What was really positive was the advocacy for tutoring from the panel. It’s clear that this is seen as a successful intervention that needs to be part of a toolkit that sets young people up for a successful future in Maths. Nick Gibb, when talking about tutoring stated:

We know from all the evidence that it absolutely is one of the most effective ways of helping children to catch up with their peers."

Labour are keen to learn from the rollout of the NTP (National Tutoring Programme) 

The last of the party conferences saw me head over to Liverpool for #LPC23 where, with our sister organisations Action Tutoring and Get Furthered, I was fortunate to sit alongside Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester Kate Green and Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, to discuss the attainment gap as part of the Centre for Social Justice’s ‘Mind the Gap’ event. I spoke about the fact that the young person in London is 2.5x more likely to receive private tuition than a young person in Liverpool and reinforced our continued aim to lessen the North/South divide regarding access to tutoring. Dame Rachel spoke really positively about how tutoring needs to be part of any educational reset post-pandemic. 

She also spoke about the ambition and desire to succeed that she saw in young people while conducting The Big Ask survey, which half a million children took part in:

Kids from disadvantaged areas were saying ‘other kids from richer backgrounds might well be succeeding more than me because I haven’t got the support I need.’ 
That’s one of the reasons why I support tutoring because those children really do need it... I would ask Labour to seriously look at and really engage with making sure we’ve got targeted tutoring because we really need it in the most disadvantaged areas."

Elsewhere, at an event on how education policy can tackle disadvantages and inequalities, Shadow Secretary for Education Bridget Phillipson talked about the ongoing need to provide catch-up support and highlighted the problems surrounding the delivery of the National Tutoring Programme.

 We know that the pandemic has had an impact and will cast a long shadow over the next decade and more because the government failed to deliver a proper plan.”

Tutoring again was recognised as an effective way of helping young people to catch-up in the immediate future and beyond.

How we provide more tailored support to children to allow them to catch up that lost learning, but also longer term, how it can be used more effectively. Now we know that there is emerging evidence on that and I’m keen to look at it.”