Potential caps on the number of places available via the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) must not result in a “first-come, first served” system, school leaders have said this week.

Just 48 hours after its launch, there has been “significant interest” in the NTP, with some schools reportedly making enquiries about one-to-one tutoring for as many as 200 pupils.

However, the NTP has only funded 250,000 places initially and has told Headteacher Update that this will not be enough to “provide support to every disadvantaged pupil in England”.

Speaking on Wednesday (November 4), an NTP spokesman said: “If demand is very high, caps may be introduced to ensure disadvantaged pupils in as many schools as possible receive support. Caps may be introduced regionally or nationally and will be clearly signalled on the NTP website and by Tuition Partners.

“If any places are unfilled after caps are introduced – or additional places are made available later in the year – schools will be given the opportunity to take additional places.”

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that the NTP has “great potential” in the long-term but right now was “severely constrained by the number of tutors available”.

He added: “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, for instance. It is 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, so allocations must come down to more than timing and good luck.”

The NTP has told Headteacher Update that applications will take place in three phases.

  • Phase 1: Schools can now apply for the number of places they would like from their preferred provider, who will respond to their request.
  • Phase 2: If demand is very high, caps “may be introduced” regionally or nationally
  • Phase 3: If any places are unfilled after caps are introduced, schools will be given the opportunity to take additional places.

The spokesman added: “We expect that tens of thousands will be enrolled in the first six weeks, with provision increasing further after Christmas. The level of interest in the programme so far has been in line with our projections.”

Elsewhere this week, some schools have raised with Headteacher Update particular concerns about the number of unqualified teachers being put forward as tutors.

On Monday (November 2), the NTP confirmed the names of the 32 tutoring organisations approved by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to deliver the tutoring.

Schools have been able to search for providers in their region since 10am on Monday morning, with an estimated 15,000 tutors available across the country.

The £350m NTP was set up to offer catch-up support to primary and secondary school pupils “who have missed out on learning during school closures”.

The 32 so-called Tuition Partners will offer schools tuition with 75 per cent of the cost being subsidised. Schools can purchase one 15-hour subsidised block of tuition per pupil.

The NTP said: “A school can purchase tutoring for four pupils for the normal cost of purchasing tutoring for a single child.” Its given example was for a block of 15 tutoring sessions that would normally cost £220 per-pupil; the subsidised cost to schools would be £55 per-pupil.

The Tuition Partners have been selected by the EEF from around 400 applications and of the approved organisations, 21 are profit-making companies compared to 11 educational charities.

A second strand to the NTP is Academic Mentors, which has so far seen 188 mentors recruited and trained by Teach First and starting work in schools in disadvantaged areas this month.

However, only £76m of the £350m has reportedly been allocated to the Tuition Partners strand, with a further £30m being set aside to fund a target of 1,000 Academic Mentors.

Headteacher Update approached several tutoring organisations this week to ask what demand they have seen so far. None were willing to give exact numbers, but many claimed that interest has been high.

CEO of online tutoring company TLC Live, Simon Barnes, said he was “shocked” at the number of students schools are seeking support for. He had been anticipating 15 to 20 pupils per school, but early interest from some schools involved discussions about tutoring for 100 to 200 pupils, he said.

He told Headteacher Update: “The level of demand from individual schools is much higher than we expected – during the application process we calculated we would be delivering 187,500 hours of lessons – this will need to be carefully managed in light of the demand. We were anticipating a focus on core subjects like science and maths but we’ve had equal demand from schools for support with subjects like humanities as well.”

Elsewhere, charity Action Tutoring reported “a great amount of interest”, from both urban and rural schools, with schools discussing provision for groups of 20 pupils on average. Other providers also reported “significant interest” when asked.

Some schools have raised concerns with Headteacher Update about what they see as a high number of unqualified teachers being offered to schools by some NTP providers.

Dr Robin Bevan, headteacher at Southend High School for Boys, said: “We are totally unconvinced, even if we did put some funds (Pupil Premium perhaps) towards it, that the tutors would have the relevant expertise to address highly specific content knowledge gaps for top-end students across every subject specification. I am puzzled that the EEF is backing the scheme (using unqualified teacher-tutors) when the evidence for tutoring is strong only if the tutor is an experienced expert in the subject.”

A senior leader from a school in East Sussex added that setting up sessions via the NTP has been “admin-heavy”, involving parental consents, collating and sharing data. She is also concerned about the number of unqualified teachers – “mainly university students” – being used.

She added: “I'm reluctant to use the NTP because of the effort required this end to set up, get students there (if in school) or the issues with access from home as most of our Pupil Premium students still don't have internet access or have to share equipment.”

Mr Barnes also said that schools contacting TLC Live were being “very vocal” about their desire to use qualified teachers.

On this point, the NTP spokesman told us: “Schools are free to select the Tuition Partner that they think will best meet the needs of their pupils. A large number of Tuition Partners use qualified teachers as tutors. However, there is also good evidence that other trained adults – who might be specialist tutors, university students or volunteers – can also improve pupils’ outcomes and provide valuable additional support to teachers. All NTP Tuition Partners have been through a rigorous selection process.”