Less than a fifth of disadvantaged pupils will benefit from subsidised Covid catch-up tutoring, Tes can reveal.
The Department for Education's £76 million Tuition Partners scheme allows schools to purchase subsidised external tutoring for disadvantaged pupils whose education has been disrupted.
It has the biggest slice of school 5-16 funding in the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), which in June the DfE said was designed to reach "up to 2 million of England's most disadvantaged children".
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But it has now emerged that there is only enough money for a small fraction of those children to get the subsidised tutoring.
The NTP website states that it hopes the subsidised tutoring sessions will reach 250,000 children. This is less than a fifth of pupils known to be classed as "disadvantaged" by the programme.
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The website states: "Tuition Partners have initially been funded to provide subsidised tutoring for up to 250,000 pupils, from November 2020.
"This will substantially increase the amount of tutoring available to disadvantaged children, but is not enough to provide support to every disadvantaged pupil in England."
The NTP website states that the focus of the programme is on "supporting disadvantaged pupils, including those eligible for pupil premium funding".
"However, participating schools will be able to decide which of their pupils will most benefit from additional support, and which type of support is more suitable," it adds.
As all pupils on free school meals are eligible for pupil premium funding, the total number classed as "disadvantaged" for the purposes of the scheme must be at least 1.4 million.
This is based on government statistics showing 1,437,951 pupils in state-funded primary, secondary and special schools, non-maintained special schools and pupil-referral units were eligible for free school meals in 2019-20.
So there is only enough subsidised tutoring money to benefit 17 per cent of those pupils.
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders' union the NAHT, said: "In the long run, the National Tutoring Programme has great potential to help schools accelerate the progress of pupils that have fallen behind.
"In the short-term, it is severely constrained by the number of tutors available.
"The scope of the NTP this year appears to be capped at 250,000 pupils – a significant number but still a fraction of the 1.4 million children in receipt of free school meals.
"It is, therefore, critical that this finite support is targeted to those pupils that can benefit most. To do so, the registration system cannot be on a first-come, first-served basis. Schools aren’t booking concert tickets here, hoping for the best seats, and allocations must come down to more than timing and good luck."
He added: "Government's 'catch-up' strategy was launched when we hoped that the worst of the pandemic would be behind us by now, when, in fact, in certain parts of the country at least, a second wave of disruption is only just beginning to hit.
"Far from catch-up, the government needs to be mindful that schools in these areas will be focused first and foremost on ensuring that their pupils are not falling even further behind."
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said: "The fact that a only a small number of pupils will be reached by the NTP is not particularly surprising.
"The wider point is that the NTP, given its scale, will only ever be in a position to make a limited contribution to supporting pupils who have been impacted by the pandemic.
"This highlights the need to continue to ensure that schools give teachers and school leaders the time and space to focus on educational recovery and the continuity of learning, and are supported by the DfE in doing so.
"It also highlights ongoing issues about the access children from disadvantaged households have to the resources and internet connectivity they need to engage as meaningfully as possible in remote learning and blended education. It remains all too clear that we are still a long way from where we need to be on this matter."
A spokesperson from the NTP said: "NTP Tuition Partners and Academic Mentors have been given a very specific remit – to deliver a national programme for disadvantaged five- to 16-year-olds that's accessible for all schools, regardless of postcode or local provision. We're confident we can deliver on that remit.
"Tuition Partners have initially been funded to provide subsidised tutoring for up to 250,000 pupils in 2020-21, while tens of thousands more will be reached by the 1,000 Academic Mentors in the second pillar of the programme. This will substantially increase the amount of tutoring available to disadvantaged children in England, and establish a programme that has the potential to help hundreds of thousands more pupils in future years.
"Funding for tutoring has also been awarded by the Department for Education to separate programmes in the early years and post-16 education."
A DfE spokesperson said: "Our £1 billion Covid catch up package will help to tackle the impact of lost teaching time as a result of the pandemic, including a £650 million catch up premium to help schools support all pupils and £350 million National Tutoring Programme for disadvantaged students.
"This comes on top of the largest increase in core funding for a decade worth £14 billion, and pupil premium funding worth £2.4 billion this year to support the most disadvantaged pupils."