The government is being urged to extend its Covid catch-up tutoring offer from one to three years, amid fears that the current scheme will not be enough to "mitigate the exponential learning loss" caused by the pandemic.
In a joint letter to the prime minister, leading education figures including prominent academy trust leaders and tutoring company chiefs have called for the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) to be extended both in duration and scope.
The letter, which was sent on Friday and copied to the chancellor and education secretary, claims that the current one-year scheme "will not be enough to mitigate the exponential learning loss that children and young people have experienced – and that many continue to experience – due to the public health crisis".
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Some of the signatories, including the heads of The Tutor Trust and Action Tutoring, represent accredited providers delivering subsidised sessions as part of the NTP.
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Julian Drinkall, CEO of Academies Enterprise Trust, and Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis academy chain, also put their names to the letter.
"We believe that extending the NTP into a three-year programme that includes support for young people aged 16 to 19 will both limit the attainment gap widening and play a considerable part in your commitment to level up for those students who have fallen behind," the signatories wrote.
The letter references figures revealed by Tes last month showing that less than a fifth of disadvantaged pupils will benefit from the government-subsidised Covid catch-up tutoring sessions.
"The EEF [Education Endowment Foundation] have confirmed that the NTP will support 250,000 pupils during the current academic year, with the programme due to end in July 2021," it states.
"Yet more than 1.4 million children are eligible for free school meals, and thousands more aged 16-19-year-olds are classed as disadvantaged. These figures are rising rapidly during the public health crisis.
"With multi-year funding and a broader scope in age, we believe that the NTP would be able to reach the majority of these students. Its extension would mean all schools and colleges are able to meaningfully embed high-quality tutoring in their offer to students from poorer backgrounds and harness the potential of this programme to boost outcomes."
The letter adds: "We acknowledge the extraordinary pressures on the public finances right now. However, there is a powerful economic and social case for extending the NTP.
"Without extra support to address lost learning, thousands of children and young people may now be less likely to secure basic qualifications or fulfil their potential and may find it harder to access higher-level qualifications or employment later on in life. Consequently, the return on investment from extending the NTP would be significant."
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said further details on the NTP would be set out following the government's spending review.