Schools in England can now book tuition for the children worst affected by months of closures during the lockdown through a subsidised scheme.
It is estimated that around 15,000 tutors – including university students, teachers and trained volunteers – will deliver tuition this academic year as part of the Government’s National Tutoring Programme.
The multimillion-pound scheme, which launches today, will also see the first wave of 188 Academic Mentors start to provide intensive catch-up support in schools serving disadvantaged communities.
It comes after Boris Johnson announced a £1 billion plan to help students in England make up lost learning time following months of school closures.
In June, the Prime Minister said £350 million would be spent on the national tutoring programme over the 2020-21 academic year to help the most disadvantaged pupils between the age of five and 16 catch up.
An additional £650 million will be shared across schools this year to help children from all backgrounds who have lost teaching time.
From today, all state primary and secondary schools will be able to request tuition for pupils from an approved list of 32 organisations selected by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).
Tutoring provided will be subsidised so a block of 15 sessions delivered in groups of three will cost the school £50 per pupil rather than £200.
But education unions have questioned whether the money could have been given to schools directly so they could support their qualified teachers to provide tuition, rather than to subsidise external agencies.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), welcomed the scheme, but he added: “It would have been far simpler and quicker for the government to have given this funding directly to schools alongside other catch-up money.
“There is good evidence that small group tuition can be extremely beneficial, but this funding could have been used to support schools in delivering this through their teaching staff who already know their pupils, rather than this system in which schools buy in subsidised tuition from external agencies.”
Mr Barton added that it could be difficult to integrate the tutoring programme into schools “with pupils having to intermittently self-isolate” amid rising Covid-19 infection rates.
Andrew Morris, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), accused the Government of opting a “cut-price scheme” which did not require tutors to have qualified teacher status.
He said: “We cannot continue trying to deliver solutions like this on the cheap – any money which remains unallocated should now be given to schools or local authorities so they can directly employ qualified staff.”
An analysis of polling by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust suggests that pupils from the least affluent families are significantly less likely to have been tutored compared to those from the most affluent (18% compared to 43%).
Pupils in London are significantly more likely to have accessed tutoring (50%) than their peers outside the capital (29%), it found.
The National Tutoring Programme (NTP) hopes to enrol tens of thousands of pupils in the first six weeks, with provision increasing further after Christmas.
But the NTP website says the scheme has initially been funded to provide subsidised tutoring for up to 250,000 pupils – which it acknowledges “is not enough to provide support to every disadvantaged pupil in England.”
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the scheme appeared to be “severely constrained” by the number of tutors available in the short-term.
He said: “The scope of the NTP this year appears to be capped at 250,000 pupils – a significant number but still a fraction of the 1.4m children in receipt of free school meals, for instance.
“It is therefore 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, hoping for the best seats, so allocations must come down to more than timing and good luck.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We need to do everything in our power to help pupils make up for any lost time, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Tutoring provides tailored teaching support to individual pupils, and can be transformational in boosting academic progress.
“This is about levelling up those opportunities across the country and I urge schools to make the most of this subsidised scheme.”
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the EEF, said: “Today marks an important day for the National Tutoring Programme. I am delighted that schools will have access to tutoring from so many high-quality organisations.
“For too long, low income pupils have not been able to afford tutoring. This is an important step in enabling them to access it.”