Why the call for former teachers and NTP has fallen flat

Geoff Barton casts a quizzical eye over a week that revealed the stark reality of how some much hyped-up government initiatives have failed to deliver – and why schools have pressed on regardless
14th January 2022, 12:44pm

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Why the call for former teachers and NTP has fallen flat

https://www.tes.com/magazine/analysis/general/why-call-former-teachers-and-ntp-has-fallen-flat
Why it's no surprise the call for former teachers and NTP has fallen flat
Geoff Barton

If there was such a thing as the Damp Squib of the Year Award, this would have been a good week to identify a couple of front-runners.

First up was the government's call for former teachers to sign up with supply agencies to help plug workforce gaps caused by Covid. In a press release on Wednesday, the Department for Education announced - with some fanfare - initial data showing 485 former teachers had come forward.

It did not help that this not-very-large number was published the day after statistics showed 44,000 teachers were absent from schools last week.

To be fair to the DfE, the data on returning teachers was based on a small sample of around 10 per cent of supply agencies. So, the actual figures may - we hope - turn out to be larger.

A pointless plan

But this scheme was never going to be a game-changer, particularly as it wasn't actually launched until the fag end of last term in what felt like an act of desperation rather than one of meticulous planning.

To make matters worse, a parliamentary question by the Liberal Democrats revealed that the DfE spent just £3,882 on the campaign.

Back in December, when the department announced this scheme, we at the Association of School and College Leaders said: "The initiative will need to be well publicised, promoted and supported in order to have any degree of success."

It's fair to say that, while we didn't have in mind a sum of money that would be required, we thought it might be slightly more than a middling jackpot on Pointless.

So, there we have it, a badly-funded, last-minute scheme that is meant to address the very serious issue of a staffing crisis in schools and colleges. All things considered, what is probably most surprising is that as many as 485 former teachers came forward. All credit to them. It could have been far fewer.

Tutoring scheme woes

The second contender for the Damp Squib Award is our old friend, the National Tutoring Programme (NTP).

Another DfE press release announced that "hundreds of thousands" of pupils are benefitting from catch-up tutoring. In fact, most of the 302,000 courses that began last term are through the school-led tutoring route where schools use their own staff.

Only 52,000 are under the NTP "tuition partners" scheme - ie, subsidised private tutors - which amounts to just 10 per cent of the target for 2021-22.

The NTP contract is run by Dutch company Randstad, and director Karen Guthrie appeared at the Commons Education Select Committee on Wednesday where she suggested schools may currently lack the "bandwidth" to access the programme.

It is certainly the case that schools have a lot on their plates, but lack of "bandwidth" is unlikely to be the issue for many of them when it comes to the NTP.

The real problem is the logistics of finding suitable times for private tuition, the fact that the tutors don't know the students, and the over-complicated funding mechanics of the scheme which mean that schools have to find 30 per cent of the cost from their own budgets.

The NTP may work well in some cases, which is obviously to be welcomed, but in many cases, schools will understandably prefer to use their own staff to provide the tuition.

This is all so obvious that it makes you wonder why the government launched the NTP scheme in the first place, rather than simply giving that money directly to schools - with an appropriate, light-touch audit trail - in order to provide the support that their pupils need.

We pointed this out at the time - as did many others - but ministers pressed ahead with this recovery scheme of labyrinthine complexity.

The NTP will presumably limp on because it would be too politically embarrassing to pull the plug, but its problems are only likely to deepen as the subsidy rate decreases over the next two years, and numbers of participating schools dwindle.

Frontline realities ignored

All of this seems a million miles away from what is actually happening in schools and colleges at the moment.

They are going about their business, in incredibly challenging circumstances, with their customary determination, commitment and professionalism.

They are often managing huge levels of staff and pupil absence, overseeing a battery of Covid control measures, preparing students for exams and delivering recovery programmes too.

They are, quite simply, getting on with getting on. This is what leadership looks like.

What they need from the government - as we have said so many times - is a greater sense of support and strategic direction. In particular, and right now, they need more financial assistance for the cost of supply cover than the government's current lacklustre scheme.

And what they definitely don't need are any more wacky wheezes too easily nominated for the Damp Squib Awards.

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