Schools are struggling to access qualified tutors through the Government’s flagship catch-up programme for children affected by months of school closures, headteachers and MPs have warned.
Ministers need to provide greater funding and flexibility to schools to “dramatically expand” the availability of tutoring provision to pupils who need it most, according to school leaders’ union NAHT.
The plea came as the Labour party criticised the “woefully low reach” of the Government’s National Tutoring Programme (NTP) across England, as it claimed that the scheme was “failing” children.
In parts of the north of England, some schools have struggled to find enough high-quality tutors through the scheme to help pupils, the NAHT said.
Speaking ahead of the union’s virtual AGM, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said the programme was “too centralised” and “restrictive” in allowing schools to access tutors they need.
He said the scheme “doesn’t necessarily get the right tutors in the right places in front of the right children.”
As part of the NTP, schools are being offered subsidised one-to-one and small-group tuition from an approved list of organisations.
Academic mentors are also being placed in schools serving disadvantaged communities to help provide intensive catch-up support as part of the NTP.
Heads have reported a number of “frustrations” with the scheme – which include having to use tutors from the approved list and not being able to sign a pupil up for English and Maths tutoring in parallel.
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT, said: “Schools in every part of the country should have access to reliable, high quality and affordable tuition support for pupils that need it, when they need it. Unfortunately, right now, we are a long way from this ambition becoming reality.”
He added: “There are going to be cold spots across England where there has been no real history of tutoring, where there isn’t a ready market there.
“I think part of the challenge to the government’s National Tutoring Programme is to grow the market so that schools have ready access to arranging tutors in those parts of the country.
“We have had feedback from some branches in the north of England that have said that they have struggled to access tutors of the appropriate calibre through the scheme.”
During an education select committee on Thursday, MPs pressed schools minister Nick Gibb on the low number of schools in the north east of England who had been reached by the programme.
Mr Gibb said: “We do take very seriously those parts of the country where the take-up rates are lower, and we have webinars and our regional civil servants are talking to headteachers in those areas.”
“We are concerned about lower take-up rates in different parts of the country,” the minister added.
He told MPs that the most up-to-date figures show that nearly 210,00 pupils across England have been enrolled to receive tutoring.
Of those enrolled, more than 110,000 pupils have started tutoring – and he said 44% are from low-income families eligible for pupil premium funding.
Senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chair of the education select committee, said: “44% is a pretty low figure. Surely given that we know disadvantaged pupils suffered a lot more during the lockdown, surely it would be a lot higher of the pupils needing the extra catch-up?”
He added: “What’s the point of the programme if the majority of students who are significantly disadvantaged aren’t being helped?”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “We have seen failure, upon failure from this Conservative Government which has treated children as an afterthought throughout the pandemic and now has no plan to deliver a strong recovery.
“The woefully low reach of the National Tutoring Programme and continuing uncertainty around assessments for exam year pupils, shows the Government is failing to deliver on its promises to children and families.”
In June last year, Mr Johnson announced a £1 billion catch-up fund to help pupils in England.
The package included £350 million for the NTP to help the most disadvantaged pupils, and £650 million for schools to help children from all backgrounds catch up.
Earlier this year, the Government announced an additional £700 million package for education recovery – which included a £200 million fund to expand the existing tuition programmes for students.
A spokesman for the NTP said: “NTP Tuition Partners have been funded to reach 250,000 pupils this school year.
“We are well on the way to reaching this milestone with over 209,000 pupils now enrolled, working in over 5,000 schools across the country.
“We know that many children have become disadvantaged during the last year and are not recognised by pupil premium eligibility.
“Teachers know their pupils best which is why they have the flexibility to decide which children will benefit the most from tutoring.
“It has been a monumental achievement to get a programme of this size and quality off the ground in such a short space of time.”
A DfE spokeswoman said: “The National Tutoring Programme is providing high-quality, targeted support for the children who need it most, with almost 210,000 pupils now enrolled from over 5,000 schools.
“The programme forms part of £1.7 billion being invested in ambitious catch-up activity, and we are working with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure all pupils recover from the impact of the pandemic as quickly and comprehensively as possible.”