Covid catch-up tutoring sessions should take place on-site by "default", despite leaders warning this could pose a "massive logistical challenge" for schools, organisers have said.
But the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) is working with its chosen tuition providers to make at-home sessions available in "exceptional circumstances", such as when pupils are shielding, Tes has learned.
Deputy head Jonathan Mountstevens said he was "utterly gobsmacked" to learn the government-subsidised catch-up sessions would need to take place in school, arguing that this would create a "massive logistical challenge".
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"We want tuition to take place online to avoid lots of different people coming into school and compromising safety restrictions. I had envisaged this happening at home where possible, reserving the school site for students who are vulnerable, lack technology or are not attending," he said.
I suspect others have worked this out before me, but I am utterly gobsmacked to have just discovered that @NTProgramme will only subsidise tuition which takes place in school. This creates a massive logistical challenge for schools and will make it very hard to manage.— Jonathan Mountstevens (@MrMountstevens) November 18, 2020
Mr Mountstevens said if his school was to deliver tutoring for 600 pupils, split over two terms and after school hours "to avoid taking students out of lessons", that would involve 60 students taking part in tuition each day.
"Each will require a machine equipped with a camera and a microphone," he said.
"Where am I supposed to find all the necessary kit? Where also am I supposed to put the students? I can't put different year groups together because of bubbles, plus each tuition session needs its own space or they will disturb each other with the noise of students answering.
"Am I supposed to provide staff to supervise all these sessions around the site? Because that's exactly what teachers need to be doing right now! Are we paying staff to supervise? With what? I could use catch-up premium, but only by reducing the amount of tuition we can afford."
He added: "Alternatively, I could move the sessions into the school day. That means that students will be missing lessons in order to take part in them, which doesn't sit well with me. Plus, where exactly am I supposed to put them? Funny enough, we don't have a whole suite of empty rooms!"
Mr Mountstevens said it felt like the system was set up to "force schools to use face-to-face tuition", despite Department for Education (DfE) guidance saying "school leaders will want to consider how to minimise the number of visitors to the school".
"So after all of this I am left considering simply bypassing the NTP subsidy and engaging privately with tuition providers," he said.
"We would need to increase the student-staff ratio to make it affordable, but none of the options is looking good right now. Where is the joined-up thinking?"
Other teachers echoed Mr Mountstevens' concerns, with one saying he was at an "utter loss" after learning the sessions must take place on-site.
Dan Thomas, a pupil premium lead and English teacher, said: "Didn't realise this, thanks for raising it. I'm at an utter loss. Why on EARTH does it have to be in school?
Didn't realise this, thanks for raising it. Im at an utter loss. Why on EARTH does it have to be in school? Surely the key thing we're trying to do is to provide additional support, whilst also circumnavigate the pandemic?! Literally pointless if it has to be in school, I'm mad!— Dan Thomas 🙋🏻♂️ (@cleverswinery) November 19, 2020
"Surely the key thing we're trying to do is to provide additional support, whilst also circumnavigate the pandemic?! Literally pointless if it has to be in school, I'm mad!"
Vice-principal Rob King added: "Our tutors have offered evening slots so surely can't be in school!?"
I can’t find where it says this in the documentation? Meant to be signing up for this today. Our tutors have offered evening slots so surely can’t be in school!?— Rob King (@robking1982) November 19, 2020
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We understand the NTP's reasons for saying that tuition, even when online, should take place in the school by default.
"However, it obviously limits the usefulness of the programme, particularly as tutoring will typically need to take place outside the normal school day, and in light of the fact that pupils are intermittently having to self-isolate.
"It is another reason why it would have been better simply to have given the money directly to schools rather than attempt to invent from scratch an incredibly convoluted system of external providers."
A spokesperson for the NTP told Tes that sessions should take place in school by "default", but organisers were working with tutors to make exceptions for pupils unable to attend.
"As a default, it is recommended that tutoring offered through the NTP, including online tutoring, is provided to pupils in schools," they said.
The NTP said there were three main reasons for this:
- Evidence suggests that tutoring during the school day, which may include during breakfast clubs and form-time, tends to have the largest impact.
- Attendance is likely to be lower for tutoring outside of the school day or delivered to pupils at home.
- Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have the necessary technology or quiet space for effective tutoring to happen at home.
The spokesperson added: "However, the NTP recognises that in exceptional circumstances, for example for pupils who are shielding or at home for extended periods, it may be beneficial to deliver tutoring to pupils at home.
"The NTP team is currently working with a number of approved tuition partners to ensure the necessary systems are in place to allow at-home tuition to take place when needed.
"The NTP recommends that in-school delivery, including of online tutoring, remains the default approach wherever possible."