Headteachers ‘appalled’ by Nadhim Zahawi bank holiday letter

Headteachers have written to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to say that they are “appalled” by his bank holiday letter urging schools to use the national tutoring programme.

On Monday, Mr Zahawi wrote to all schools urging them to use the flagship NTP, adding that he was “planning to publish data on each school’s tutoring delivery at the end of the year” and share it with Ofsted.

Headteachers’ unions have written to the Education Secretary asking why the letter was sent on a bank holiday, which they say contravenes the Department for Education’s own position on wellbeing.

As first reported by the Schools Week website, the Association of School and College Leaders and the NAHT union wrote to Mr Zahawi on Wednesday to say they were “appalled” about the announcement that data on schools’ uptake of the NTP would be shared with the education watchdog.

“We are angry both at the content of the letter and at the fact that it was sent on a bank holiday, with an accompanying press release all but inviting the media to vilify schools,” the letter said.

They added that the letter had been sent on Bank Holiday Monday, “in direct contravention of the DfE’s own staff wellbeing charter”, which commits to publishing content aimed at education staff during working hours only.

The unions said the collection of data on how schools were using the NTP, to be published in the autumn term, represented a “new accountability measure” which breached a departmental commitment in 2014 to introduce minimum lead-in times for accountability changes, bringing in new measures at the start of the school year wherever possible.

NAHT and ASCL said they had shared many anecdotes with the DfE about why schools were not using the NTP, including “the complexity of the requirements, the variable availability and quality of tutors” and “the lack of capacity in many schools to do anything more than attempt to keep the school open in the face of significant and ongoing Covid-related staff absences”.

They added that the requirement for schools to cover 25% of the cost of school-led tutoring out of “increasingly stretched budgets”, and the “inappropriateness” of the programme for special schools had also caused low take-up, and asked Mr Zahawi whether the DfE had undertaken research into schools’ reasons for avoiding the programme.

The tutoring programme has previously been criticised as “dysfunctional”, with schools and tuition providers reporting problems with the online portal run by Randstad – a Dutch human resources firm awarded £25.4 million to manage the tuition partners scheme in May 2021.

In March, Randstad lost the contract for next year, with the DfE announcing that schools would receive direct funds for tutoring to “simplify” the programme.