Zahawi apologises to heads for Bank Holiday tutoring letter

But education secretary Nadhim Zahawi defends plans to publish school NTP data and insists it is 'not a new accountability measure'
13th May 2022, 4:42pm
John Roberts

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Zahawi apologises to heads for Bank Holiday tutoring letter

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/zahawi-apologises-heads-bank-holiday-tutoring-letter
Nadhim Zahawi has apologised for writing to schools on a Bank Holiday to announce new league tables based on the National Tutoring Programme.

Nadhim Zahawi has apologised to headteachers' leaders for writing to schools on a Bank Holiday to inform them of controversial plans to publish new school catch-up league tables.

Heads' leaders immediately condemned the letter as "deeply unfair", and the Association of School and College Leaders and the NAHT school leaders' union subsequently wrote to the education secretary to express their anger at the letter sent on the early May Bank Holiday, which they said breached his department's staff wellbeing charter.

Now Mr Zahawi has responded apologising for the timing of the letter but reaffirming his plan to publish data on schools' uptake of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) - yet he has insisted it is not a new accountability measure.

In his letter, the education secretary says: "I'd like to reiterate the apology I made in person in our meeting for the timing of the letter and the impact that had on some headteachers and others in the profession.

"I recognise that sending the letter following schools' return after the Bank Holiday weekend would have been a better approach."

However, he defended the plan to publish schools' take-up of the NTP and to share this with Ofsted.

His letter adds: "I am very clear that this is about increased transparency and that publication of such data does not represent the introduction of a new accountability measure for schools.

"In terms of Ofsted's role, Ofsted has confirmed that inspectors will not consider NTP data in isolation and that these data will not determine schools' inspection grades."

The two school leadership unions welcomed the apology but repeated their concern about the plans.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: "We're pleased the education secretary has apologised for the timing of the letter but disappointed he intends to press ahead with the publication of data on the take-up of the National Tutoring Programme.

"He says it is not a new accountability measure but we remain concerned that it will end up being a de facto league table, and we are disturbed that it is obviously going to be a source of information for Ofsted inspections."

Mr Barton added that none of this was said when schools were first informed about this year's NTP.

He added: "We're all for transparency but we're also in favour of timely disclosure and consultation - neither of which has happened."

'Serious concerns' about the proposals

James Bowen, director of policy for the NAHT, said: "We welcome the fact that the secretary of state has apologised for the timing of this announcement and the recognition that this should not have been sent to schools on a Bank Holiday.

"We do, however, continue to have serious concerns about the nature of the proposals themselves. There is a wide range of reasons why schools may not have used the National Tutoring Programme, and many of these are linked to failings within the programme itself.

"Given the problems we have seen with the programme, it is simply not helpful or indeed fair on schools to publish the data in this way."

Mr Bowen said that the government should have told schools this was their plan at the start of the year instead of announcing it two-thirds of the way through.

"Rather than trying to pressurise schools into using the programme, the government would do better to focus on making sure it is fully fit for purpose," he said.

The unions originally wrote to Mr Zahawi to say that the letter sent to schools on a Bank Holiday Monday was in direct contravention of the DfE's own staff wellbeing charter, in which it commits to publishing content aimed at education staff only during working hours.

In the announcement on 2 May, the DfE had highlighted that 40 per cent of schools had yet to offer any catch-up tutoring sessions this academic year.

The department also said that each school that has not yet offered tutoring will be contacted individually from this week to "discuss their plans and offer them more support".

 

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