Scottish pupils face gaping holes in the tutoring provision available to support their education, MSPs have been warned.

Dr Laura Robertson, senior research officer at The Poverty Alliance, said dedicated programmes for those in disadvantaged circumstances were simply “not in existence” across most local authority areas.

She told Holyrood’s Education, Children and Young People Committee that only East Lothian and Glasgow appeared to have readily identifiable services in place. MSPs also heard such support could make a key contribution to closing Scotland’s poverty-related attainment gap.

The remarks come amid concern over the ongoing impact of Covid-linked teacher and pupil absence.

READ MORE: Education Secretary sets out pupil support plan ahead of exams

Ministers recently announced they would pump in £4 million to provide study assistance ahead of this year’s exams, which will be held unless public health restrictions at the time of the planned diet prevent physical gatherings. Support will be targeted at senior phase learners from the most deprived backgrounds, those with additional support needs and individuals whose attendance or attainment has been most acutely affected by Covid.

However, Dr Robertson suggested current gaps across the wider education system were significant. “There’s a lot of evidence out there about what works but local authorities might not have the initiatives available,” she told MSPs. “So, for example, tutoring has been demonstrated by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to be particularly effective to tackle the attainment gap. But that’s a massive gap in current practice in Scotland.

“We recently were commissioned by The Robertson Trust to look at the provision of mentoring and tutoring for young people living in poverty in Scotland and we only identified three tutoring programmes in a couple of local authorities, so it’s just not something that’s available to young people.”

She added: “East Lothian currently have a tutoring programme that’s recently been developed and there’s the volunteer tutors organisation in Glasgow. These are the two that I’m aware of.

“There will be smaller scale, third sector community organisations. There will be schools that are using attainment funding for teaching assistants to provide extra tutoring as well, but these are the two that we were aware of from doing our mapping work.”

HeraldScotland: An exams diet will take place this year, provided public health restrictions do not prevent physical gatherings.An exams diet will take place this year, provided public health restrictions do not prevent physical gatherings.

When asked by committee convener Stephen Kerr what was stopping the roll-out of initiatives “with a proven track record”, Dr Robertson said: “For schools they’re just not in existence.

“So, in terms of tutoring there are no programmes there for schools to utilise.”

Professor Becky Francis, EEF chief executive, told MSPs her organisation had helped design and deliver the first year of the national tutoring programme in England, which was based on evidence of tutoring’s usefulness in the context of the pandemic.

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She also said feedback indicated the provision was “really popular” among pupils and their families. “Something that’s important to point out is that, certainly in year one of the programme, the majority of the provision was concentrated within the school day,” the professor added.

“That, of course, creates its own complications about when that is provided - is it lunchtime, is it after the end of school.

“But the point is that schools were coordinating the tuition provision because of the evidence that, otherwise, you’ll have high levels of absenteeism and so forth, and also the necessity for this to be in direct coordination with the school teacher, so that you don’t get these unfortunate, unintended consequences of tutors providing a different curriculum and teaching something irrelevant - you know, that this is very much guided by the school teacher.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Our funding to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap allows teachers and school leaders an option of providing mentoring and tutoring support for disadvantaged pupils who need it.

“Our action to support children and young people includes providing funding for the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and 500 support staff over this Parliamentary term, investing a record £1 billion to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap, and taking action to tackle the costs of the school day.”