Covid catch-up fund is too restrictive, warn colleges

More than 70 per cent of colleges are providing additional tuition on top of the 16 to 19 Tuition Fund, research shows

Kate Parker

Covid catch-up fund 'too restrictive', say colleges

More than 70 per cent of colleges are providing additional tuition over and above the government's 16 to 19 Tuition Fund, new research from the Association of Colleges reveals. 

A survey on college catch-up funding and remote learning, carried out by the AoC, shows that many college staff had taught over the Easter holidays to make up for lost learning, and many reported that the tuition fund was “too restrictive”. 

The survey also reveals that more than three-quarters of 16- to 18-year-olds are performing below expectations.

Around 80 colleges responded to the survey, representing 33 per cent of all colleges in England. 

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In July 2020, the 16 to 19 Tuition Fund was established to support schools, colleges and all other 16 to 19 providers to tackle the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic. The initial £96 million was ring-fenced for 2020-21 to support small group tuition for 16 to 19 students in English, maths and other courses where learning has been disrupted. In February this year, the government announced a year-long extension worth £102 million. 

Colleges' Covid tuition fund 'has only had moderate impact'

However, colleges have said that the focus on small groups means that it is hard to meet the range of needs for large numbers of students across college provision, including personal and social development and enrichment. 

Just 22 per cent of colleges felt that the fund was having a significant impact, while 56 per cent thought the impact was moderate. Many colleges have found it difficult to staff and resource additional small group hours: 71 per cent of colleges are providing additional tuition over and above the tuition fund, 77 per cent are providing online catch-up, and 63 per cent are providing mentoring.

In its report, the AoC calls for targeted support for the most disadvantaged through a 16-19 student premium, and for a guaranteed fully-funded extra year of study for students if needed.

Cath Sezen, senior policy manager at the AoC, said: "The tuition fund has been welcomed and utilised by colleges. Over two-thirds of colleges have provided additional hours and just under half are providing catch-up support during the holidays, above the provision of the fund.

"This is due in large part to the focus on small groups, meaning colleges have found it hard to meet the range of needs of large numbers of students across college provision over and above lost ‘learning’. Lost experiences and opportunities to develop wider employability and life skills require a more flexible approach.”

Catch-up fund: how colleges are using it

Some 42 per cent of colleges said they would be offering summer tutoring, but 58 per cent said they would not. 

Around two in 10 colleges have used between 75 and 100 per cent of their allocation, and a third have used between 50 and 74 per cent. 

(Source: Association of Colleges)

The majority of colleges (76 per cent) are using the fund for both English and maths and vocational and technical catch-up. Around 17 per cent are using it for English and maths catch-up alone, and 3 per cent are utilising it for vocational and technical catch-up. 

Colleges identified the three subjects that needed the greatest amount of catch-up support – and courses dominated by practical skills were most common: 61 per cent of colleges said construction, 48 per cent said engineering and motor vehicle, and 42 per cent said hair and beauty. 

AoC graph
(Source: Association of Colleges)

However, basic skills were also identified as in greatest need for catch-up support, with English and ESOL (level 2 and below) at 30 per cent and maths (level 2 and below) at 34 per cent. Delivery for learners with SEND was also identified as having the greatest need for catch-up support by 14 per cent of colleges. 

The Department for Education declined to comment. 

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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