‘Tutoring for the millions’: Lib Dems plan booster classes for almost 2 million children

22 Sep 2023

EMBARGO: 00:01 Saturday 23 September 

Liberal Democrats will offer free small-group tutoring to 1.75 million children a year who struggle with their learning, the party’s education spokesperson will say today (23 September).

It comes analysis by the party shows that more than one in seven teenagers fall behind with English or Maths at secondary school. These 64,000 students meet government reading and maths standards at age 11 but then fail either GCSE English or Maths at age 16.

In her keynote speech at the party’s Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, Munira Wilson MP will accuse Rishi Sunak of letting down these children by “pulling the plug” on school-based tutoring. The National Tutoring Programme ends this year.

She will compare Sunak to Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist for consistently rejecting cries “for more” investment in education when he was Chancellor. Sunak rejected bids from Government advisers and officials for greater investment in COVID catch-up lessons, free school meals and new school buildings.

Instead, Liberal Democrats will call for tutoring to become a permanent fixture in England’s schools. Schools, sixth forms and further education colleges would receive £390 million a year for intensive small-group sessions for students who have fallen behind in class.

Pupils would receive tailored support over 12 weeks in English, Maths, Science, or another academic subject. Schools and colleges would select pupils who receive tutoring, prioritising children from low-income backgrounds, with low prior attainment or with additional needs.

Schools and colleges could use their own teaching staff, recruit tutors themselves or choose from quality-assured external providers. Classroom teachers and parents would work together to identify the subjects where the tutoring is most needed.

A survey by Public First found that more than 7 in 10 parents whose children received tutoring at school said that it raised their child’s attainment. The Government’s ‘what works centre’ for education says that small-group tutoring boosts pupils’ progress by four months on average.

In her speech, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson MP is expected to say:

On Rishi Sunak:

“And when our schools and colleges beg, bowl in hand, asking, “please Sir, I want some more”, who is the Mr Bumble in our Dickensian nightmare?

“Rishi Sunak. “As Chancellor, time and again, he denied our children the investment they so desperately needed.

“When the pandemic hit, our children were forgotten[...] [D]espite the heroics of our teachers reinventing their lessons for online learning, tens of millions of hours were lost from school. 

“The Government’s own adviser said that children needed £15 billion to catch up. Otherwise, all the work done over a decade closing the attainment gap would be completely wiped out. Which Chancellor coughed up less than a third of that? Rishi Sunak[...]

“When crumbling concrete was found in a school in Essex last month, they moved pupils into a wedding venue for four days a week[...] Officials told the Treasury that schools needed £5 billion a year to stop their crumbling buildings from collapsing completely. Which Chancellor gave them less than two-thirds of that? Rishi Sunak[...]

“He simply doesn’t appreciate the value of education.”

On tutoring:

“Conference, there are parents up and down the country who, each and every day, are making that investment in their own children[...] So Liberal Democrats will provide those parents with a vital boost.

“Since the pandemic, England’s schools have been using tutoring to help the most disadvantaged young people catch up rapidly on their lost learning.

“To be clear, the Government’s National Tutoring Programme has been beset with problems, from incompetent outsourcing to shortages of tutors[…] Yet despite all that, it has had some success.

“Hundreds of thousands of students got extra support. Schools that focused on the poorest pupils boosted their Maths and English grades. Parents said that their children became more confident.

“But yet again, just as we were seeing some progress, the Conservatives pulled the plug. This year’s programme will be its last[...]

“Conference, I am fed up with the Conservatives letting down our young people over and over again. So Liberal Democrats will invest in our young people to transform their education.

“Tutoring will no longer be something that only an elite few can afford. Under the Liberal Democrats, it will be for the millions.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We are very pleased to see this commitment to education by the Liberal Democrats. There is strong evidence for small group tutoring as an effective intervention to support young people who need additional help.

“ASCL has campaigned for more action to support the ‘forgotten third’ of young people who fall short of the gateway qualification of at least a Grade 4 in GCSE English and maths at the age of 16. Targeted tutoring funded on a permanent basis would help to improve their educational outcomes and life chances.”

Sarah Waite, CEO of Get Further, a charity that supports further education students from disadvantaged backgrounds retaking GCSE English and maths, said:

"Ensuring all young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in schools and colleges can access high-quality tutoring is an essential part of the strategy to close the country’s attainment gap. With such a positive impact on confidence and skills, it is vital that tutoring policies are extended and scaled up beyond August 2024.

“It’s fantastic that the Liberal Democrats are announcing their commitment to embed access to tutoring for disadvantaged young people into the education system long-term."

Susannah Hardyman, founder and CEO of Action Tutoring, a nationwide education charity that provides tutoring to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, added: 

“Tutoring is one of the best-evidenced ways of supporting disadvantaged young people to achieve academically, levelling the playing field between those that can afford private tutoring and those that can't. The benefits of tutoring extend beyond just academic attainment, with evidence highlighting that it also increases wider confidence, motivation and engagement in education. Tutoring unlocks the potential of children and young people, which ultimately benefits not only their future but wider society too.

“We are delighted that the Liberal Democrats have announced plans to make school-based tutoring a permanent fixture in England, especially targeting those that need the support most.”


Notes to Editors

Munira Wilson MP will deliver her keynote speech on Saturday 23 September at 12:35. You can watch the speech live here: https://www.libdems.org.uk/conference/live.

Liberal Democrat analysis of 2021/22 GCSE results (Source):

Total number of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 in state-funded schools who met or exceeded the expected standard in reading and Maths in their Key Stage 2 SATs


Of those, the number of pupils who achieved a standard pass (Grade 4) or higher in both GCSE English and Maths



64,478 (15.8%)

The Education Endowment Foundation’s analysis of small-group tuition is available here.

The Public First report and survey data are available here.

In May 2023, Schools Minister Nick Gibb confirmed that 2023-24 will be the “final year” of the National Tutoring Programme in England (here). 





Desks a computers in front of a wall painted with the bird of liberty

Back to press releases

A person using a laptop

Contact the press office


This website uses cookies

Like most websites, this site uses cookies. Some are required to make it work, while others are used for statistical or marketing purposes. If you choose not to allow cookies some features may not be available, such as content from other websites. Please read our Cookie Policy for more information.

Essential cookies enable basic functions and are necessary for the website to function properly.
Statistics cookies collect information anonymously. This information helps us to understand how our visitors use our website.
Marketing cookies are used by third parties or publishers to display personalized advertisements. They do this by tracking visitors across websites.