Just give us the cash: School leaders' National Tutoring Programme plea

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools should be able to access National Tutoring Programme (NTP) cash without having to match funding from “extremely stretched” budgets, headteachers have said.

The Department for Education (DfE) had been due to reduce its tutoring subsidy from 60% to just 25% from September – but it has now confirmed that it will only fall to 50%.

However, it means that schools will still be required to stump up 50% of the cost of NTP interventions – which headteachers say will be impossible for many given the state of school budgets.

The Association of School and College Leaders, while welcoming the change, said that schools which struggled to cover 40% of the cost of tutoring this year will find it no easier to cover 50% of the cost next year.

Earlier this year, the DfE was warned by the National Audit Office that its plan to slowly reduce and then remove the subsidy would put tutoring interventions under threat.

The most recent DfE figures show that almost 3.4 million tutoring courses have been begun under the NTP since its inception in autumn 2020.

This includes 2.2 million in the 2021/22 academic year and around 840,000 from September 2022 to January’s end 2023. The DfE says that 66% of schools have taken part in the NTP (DfE, 2022).

The NTP is a core strand of the DfE’s £3.5bn Covid recovery programme and has been allocated £1bn over four years. Next year, £150m will be available to schools – this amount has not been increased, meaning that with the higher 50% subsidy, the DfE is planning for a reduced take-up.

Julie McCulloch, ASCL’s director of policy, said the planned cut to 25% would have certainly led “many schools to cut or entirely abandon NTP provision”.

However, she continued: “The government claims this change will enable more schools to deliver tutoring. We hope this is true. The fact remains, though, that schools which struggled to afford 40% of the cost of tutoring this year aren’t going to find it any easier to afford 50% next year.

“(We have) suggested several times that schools should be able to access their allocated NTP funding without having to top this up from their own extremely stretched budgets. It’s disappointing that the government has again chosen not to make this simple change which would, in our view, enable many more schools to access the programme, and many more pupils to benefit from it.”

The sentiment was echoed by the National Association of Head Teachers, which pointed to its own research showing that 59% of school leaders surveyed were planning to cut NTP provision next year due to the subsidy cut.

General secretary Paul Whiteman added: “However, it is important to point out that due to the current financial pressures schools are facing, many will still find it extremely difficult to fund the remaining 50% that is required from them, particularly given that the amount of funding schools will receive overall for tutoring will not change.”

The DfE has also published guidance for schools on the NTP funding for 2023/24 (DfE, 2023), covering the different NTP options, how the funding is to be allocated, how unspent funds will be clawed back, and issues such as safeguarding and accountability.

The guidance states: “We expect you to target tutoring towards pupils who are eligible for the Pupil Premium or who are below the expected standard or grade boundary in an applicable subject but recognise that tuition may be used to support a variety of pupils’ needs.”

However, controversially for a catch-up programme specifically aimed at disadvantaged pupils, only 50% of those receiving tutoring interventions so far have been eligible for free school meals (DfE, 2022).

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