Only 44% of catch-up tutoring helps poorest pupils

Headteachers warn that government's National Tutoring Programme is 'the most complicated system imaginable'
17th March 2021, 12:01am
Tes Reporter


Only 44% of catch-up tutoring helps poorest pupils
Covid Catch-up: Less Than Half Of Tutoring Under The National Tutoring Programme Is Going To The Poorest Pupils

The government's flagship Covid catch-up tutoring programme may not be reaching the most disadvantaged children, a Whitehall spending watchdog has warned.

Fewer than half of the pupils who have started to receive tuition so far are from low-income families eligible for pupil premium funding, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report published today.

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Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier said the Department for Education's "failure to do its homework" has hit children who were already disadvantaged "the hardest".

As part of the National Tutoring Programme, schools are being offered subsidised tuition from an approved list of organisations offering one-to-one and small-group tutoring.

The NAO report found that of the 125,200 children allocated a tutoring place by February, 41,100 had started to receive tuition - of whom 44 per cent were eligible for pupil premium funding.

Covid tutoring scheme 'not reaching enough disadvantaged pupils'

"This raises questions over the extent to which the scheme will reach the most disadvantaged children," the report from the spending watchdog says.

In June last year, Boris Johnson announced a £1 billion catch-up fund to help pupils in England.

The package included £350 million for the NTP to help the most disadvantaged pupils, and £650 million for schools to help children from all backgrounds catch up.

Looking back at the DfE's handling of school and college closures during the pandemic, the NAO report concludes that aspects of its response "could have been done better or more quickly, and therefore been more effective in mitigating the learning pupils lost as a result of the disruption."

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: "The evidence shows that children's learning and development has been held back by the disruption to normal schooling.

"It is crucial that the department monitors the impact of its catch-up arrangements, particularly on disadvantaged children, and acts on the results."

Labour MP Ms Hillier said the DfE's reaction to the pandemic "was slower and less effective" than it could have been.

She said: "DfE's failure to do its homework has come at the expense of children and has hit those who were already disadvantaged the hardest.

"DfE must now ensure its support is properly targeted to prevent the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers from widening even further."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The relatively low number of children identified in this report as actually receiving tuition under the NTP is not a surprise, given the complexity of delivering a programme of this nature and the disruption happening in schools. 

"And the fact that less than half of them were children eligible for pupil premium is no surprise either as schools will have done exactly what was asked of them, which was to use their judgement to identify the children in their schools who would benefit most.

"All of this goes to show it would have been a lot quicker, simpler and more effective to have simply given this money directly to schools and to link at least a proportion of the overall package of recovery funding to pupil premium, as this would have ensured that schools with more disadvantaged pupils received more money. 

"Instead, the government chose to come up with the most complicated system imaginable and this is the messy result." 

Last month, the prime minister announced an extra £400 million of funding, on top of the £300 million pledged in January, to help pupils make up lost learning time.

As part of the recovery package, £200 million will fund an expansion of existing tuition programmes for students.

Mr Barton said: "The further recovery package announced in February includes a recovery premium, which will build on pupil premium, but the government is determined to persist with NTP despite our repeated warnings that this is a very complex way of delivering support and means that less of the money that is available for education recovery goes directly to schools. 

"However, it looks like NTP is here to stay for a while, and the task now is to ensure it works as well as possible for children and schools."

A DfE spokesman said: "This pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to all areas of life, but we have acted swiftly at every turn to help minimise the impact on pupils' education and provide extensive support for schools, colleges and early years settings.

"Schools have been open to vulnerable pupils throughout the pandemic, and getting all children back into the classroom, as they are now, has been the department's number one priority during the periods of national lockdown.

"We have invested over £2 billion into schemes to provide pupils with devices for remote education and ambitious catch-up plans with funding targeted at disadvantaged children and young people who need support the most."

A spokesperson for the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) said: "The NTP is committed to making sure high-quality tutoring is available to schools to help their pupils whose education has been most affected by school closures. 

"All state schools in England are eligible to access support through NTP Tuition Partners. Through our 33 Tuition Partners, we have enrolled more than 150,000 children and are on track to reach the target of 250,000 by the end of the academic year.

"We know that many pupils who have experienced disadvantage as a result of the pandemic are not necessarily eligible for pupil premium funding. 

"The NTP recognises this by giving schools flexibility in deciding which of their pupils would most benefit from additional support. However, we also expect the proportion of pupils eligible for the pupil premium benefiting from NTP support to increase, now that schools are fully reopen."

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