School leaders slam 'underhand' plan to publish tutoring data

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

School leaders have accused the government of attempting to distract from the “mess” it has made of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) with the “underhand” introduction of tutoring league tables.

The Department for Education (DfE) wrote to schools on Bank Holiday Monday (when they were closed) to tell them of the decision to publish tutoring data.

The letter has landed badly, with school leaders suggesting that instead of the complex, convoluted and only partially subsidised NTP, the government should have “provided a recovery programme which was simple and adequately funded”.

The DfE estimates that 40% of schools are yet to offer any tutoring sessions on the NTP this academic year. Schools not using the NTP can expect to be contacted individually by DfE officials from this week to “discuss their plans and offer support”.

Under the new plans unveiled by education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, data will be published in the autumn revealing how schools are using the NTP.

The data will show schools’ tutoring delivery in the 2021/22 academic year and will be published alongside the usual national take-up figures. The data will include the funding allocations and numbers of pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium for each school.

The data is also to be shared with Ofsted. A DfE statement said that they would be “working with Ofsted over the coming months on the best use of that data”.

Given the poor performance and chaotic organisation of the NTP, school leaders feel aggrieved.

Before Easter, the DfE pledged to give all of its catch-up tutoring funding for 2022/23 directly to schools (£349m) and it has axed NTP provider Randstad.

It followed months of anger at the poor and chaotic performance of the NTP. The NTP’s core approach of making schools use “tuition partners” – a list of 57 “approved” and subsidised third party providers, many of which are profit-making companies – has not been popular. Even less popular has been its “academic mentors” route.

The final straw seems to have been a scathing report from the Education Select Committee last month, which accused the NTP of “failing the most disadvantaged” young people.

Commenting this week, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the decision to publish data was “underhand”.

“This announcement smacks of political grandstanding designed to distract from the mess the government has made of the NTP. When the DfE set out guidance for this year’s NTP it did not mention that it would be publishing some sort of league table on take-up and sharing this with Ofsted. This is effectively a new accountability measure which has been introduced at the 11th hour in a rather underhand manner.

Mr Barton said it was no surprise that take-up of the original NTP had been variable when you consider the three “tutoring routes”, the “complex conditions”, it only being partiallysubsidised, as well as the huge extra costs currently facing schools and the pressure brought about by months of student and staff absence due to Covid.

He added: “In addition, one of the routes – the tuition partners scheme which provides funding for subsidised private tuition – has been so beset with problems that it has been belatedly abandoned by the government, but not before a number of schools spent a great deal of time and energy trying to make it work.

“The government could and should have provided a recovery programme which was simple and adequately funded instead of the chaotic and lacklustre programme over which it has presided. The decision to publish data feels very much like an attempt to shift the focus away from its manifest failings and on to schools.”

In March, Mr Zahawi – during an address to the ASCL annual conference and in the shadow of the Education Select Committee’s damning report – acknowledged the NTP’s problems.

Mr Zahawi admitted: “I know that many of you have had challenges with the programme. I have listened and I have heard you, and we are making improvements as I speak to you today.”

However, the tone of the education secretary’s letter is at odds with his acknowledgement at the ASCL conference.

He wrote: “I appeal now, in particular to those schools that have not yet started to offer tutoring, to make sure that you do so as soon as possible this term – do not miss out on an opportunity to help pupils who could benefit now.

“Starting this week, my department will contact those schools yet to offer tutoring support to discuss their plans and offer further support to ensure they can offer tutoring to their pupils this term.”

The DfE says that current funding for the NTP is enough “to provide a course of tuition to every single pupil eligible for Pupil Premium”.

Ministers see the NTP as a key part of being able to meet the Parent Pledge, which was unveiled in the recent education White Paper. The White Paper sets out plans for six million tutoring courses to be delivered by 2024. The Parent Pledge will focus on children who “fall behind” in maths or English and guarantees that they will get “the support they need to get back on track”, including via tutoring.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said this week: “On-going delays, conflicting guidance, and a shortage of high-quality tutors in some areas has meant many schools have simply not been able to use the NTP.

“Rather than trying to pressurise schools into using it, the government should focus on building a tutoring programme and an infrastructure that is actually fit-for-purpose. It is completely wrong for the government to seek to hold schools to account for delivering tutoring, when it has yet to create a programme that properly delivers for schools and pupils.”

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