Last reviewed 20 October 2021

The National Tutoring Programme was put in place to help pupils catch up after the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. Former headteacher Michael Evans examines its provisions.

Background

The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic brought the need for a significant amount of teaching to be carried out online. At its best, this online teaching was excellent, but in many cases it was less than satisfactory. Often with very little notice, teachers were faced with having to get to grips with a new form of teaching, while at the same time continuing face-to-face lessons with pupils who were still in school.

Many pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged families, did not have the home facilities to enable them to take part in online teaching, while other pupils took advantage of the lack of supervision and simply opted out.

The development of the programme

For a considerable time, there had been concern at the academic gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. Evidence suggested that the effects of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated this problem, but that one-to-one and small-group tutoring could be a cost-effective way of providing support for these pupils.

Consequently, in June 2020 the Government announced its National Tutoring Programme (NTP), which it launched the following November. £350 million was allocated as part of a government catch-up fund, initially for one year, but later announcements extended this to two years, with a further £200 million being pledged.

The aim was for state-maintained primary and secondary schools in England to access high-quality subsidised tutoring provision for 5 to 16-year-olds and a list of approved providers was published, with schools choosing a provider from this list and buying tuition at a subsidised price.

Initially schools paid a quarter of the full cost, but this is due to increase to 50% in the academic year 2022/23, and 90% thereafter.

Concerns were raised about the funding arrangements. Following an investigation by The Observer, it was discovered that one provider was charging the government £80 an hour, but only paying tutors between £20 and £30. Richard Adams, education editor of The Guardian, echoed the thoughts of many by arguing that the scheme would be much more effective if schools received the money direct and did their own hiring.

During the first year there were two methods of support for schools — tutors and academic mentors — and schools were able to choose which scheme suited them best. For the academic year 2021/22, following feedback, a third stand of support — school-led tutoring — has been added. This means that there are now three routes to tutoring.

NTP Tuition Partners

During the academic year 2021/22 tutoring will be subsidised to the tune of 70%, with schools meeting the remaining 30%. Many schools will meet this from the Recovery Premium or Pupil Premium.

Tuition partners offer a range of subjects and provide targeted support, delivered either one-to-one or in small groups. This can be either online or face to face. It will be available in 15-hour blocks to support best-practice evidence on tutoring.

As before, schools can decide which Tuition Partner to work with and which pupils will best benefit from this additional support. In some cases, multi-academy trusts will be able to negotiate central contracts to cover all of their schools.

NTP Academic Mentors

Schools in the most disadvantaged areas are eligible to access support through the NTP’s Academic Mentors. These are salaried members of staff who work alongside teachers to provide a range of interventions, focusing on small group and one-to-one sessions, leaving teachers to be free to focus on their classrooms.

The Academic Mentors will be graduates, but not necessarily qualified teachers, although some will be working towards an initial teacher training qualification or considering a career in the education sector. Schools tailor support, which will include subject-specific work, and revision lessons.

Eligible schools can request up to two mentors and in the academic year 2021/22 95% of the cost will be subsidised, with the remaining 5% funded through Recovery or Pupil Premium.

School-Led Tutoring

This has been added to the 2021/22 NTP provision following feedback received from the first year of operation. Many schools reported that they would prefer to source their own tutors, either from their own staff or from a local resource where there is already a relationship with the school’s pupils.

For the academic year 2021/22 the DfE will provide ring-fenced grant funding directly to schools to support school-led tutoring. The amount received will be proportionate to the number of Pupil Premium students on roll.

The grant will cover 75% of the cost of locally sourced tuition and will be based on average costs of tutoring. Schools will meet the remaining 25% of the cost and will be free to use the grant to provide tuition for pupils who need it most, even if they are non-Pupil Premium students.

Some statistics

The DfE announced that in the academic year 2020/21, 240,200 pupils were enrolled for tuition and by July 2021, 27,000 tutors had been recruited and tuition partners were working in over 5700 schools.

In addition, 1000 academic mentors were placed in almost 950 schools and by May 2021, 62,000 pupils had been supported.

In June 2021 the DfE further announced that it was investing an extra £1 billion in the education recovery programme over the next three years. The intention is that up to 6 million pupils aged 5 to 16 will benefit from 15-hour tutoring packages.

Concerns

In spite of this impressive range of statistics, inevitable pressures on funding will mean that not all schools and pupils will be able to access the tutoring programme. While the level of funding will significantly increase the amount of tutoring that will be available for a great many disadvantaged children, it will still not be enough to support every disadvantaged pupil in England. It is also important to ensure that there will be fair national coverage.

Questions have also been asked as to exactly how the funding will be allocated. Will there be a system of prioritisation, or will it be a question of “first come — first served”?

There are also queries relating to Academic Mentors. While the appointment of Academic Mentors is quite straightforward, since it is based largely on the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI), much will depend on how many individuals actually sign up to do the job. Again, there could be regional variations.

In addition, there are concerns that there should be a more meaningful assessment of what actually constitutes deprivation.

Conclusion

The effects of the National Tutoring Programme will naturally be closely watched and if all goes to plan there should be a significant improvement in the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

However, it should be remembered that the pandemic has only widened an attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers that was already well-established. Closure of this gap is an important aspiration, but there is likely to be a long way to go before complete parity is achieved.

Summary

  • Concerns were expressed that the growing academic gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • To counter this, the government launched its National Tutoring Programme (NTP) to be financed from its catch-up fund.

  • The NTP’s aim was to provide all state-financed primary and secondary schools with access to a high quality subsidised tutoring programme.

  • Tutor partners were to provide support either one-to-one or in small groups in 15-hour blocks.

  • Academic mentors were to be available for schools in the most disadvantaged areas to focus on small group and one-to-one sessions.

  • School-led tutoring has been added with 75% grants based on the number of Pupil Premium students on roll.