Schools are struggling to access the government’s controversial national tutoring programme (NTP) aimed at supporting disadvantaged children in the wake of the pandemic because of a shortage of qualified tutors in some parts of England, school leaders have warned.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) called on the government to give schools more funding and allow them greater flexibility to use staff they may be familiar with, which would enable them to widen the scheme swiftly in order to meet pupils’ needs.
“In some parts of the country there’s been no history and no experience of tutoring,” said Nick Brook, NAHT deputy general secretary. “When we talk to our members, they are telling us that they are struggling to access the schemes.”
The warning came as Labour denounced the government’s flagship scheme worth £350m, describing its reach as “woefully low” and accusing ministers of repeatedly failing to deliver on its promises to children and families.
Schools minister Nick Gibb, in an appearance before MPs on the Commons education committee, revealed that a total of 110,000 pupils have now begun to receive tutoring out of the 210,000 enrolled on the scheme, and he said the government intended to reach its target of reaching 250,000 pupils in this academic year.
He also revealed that 44% of those receiving tuition were from disadvantaged families and eligible for additional pupil premium funding, a figure which disappointed members of the committee who said it should be better targeted at the most disadvantaged.
The minister was quizzed about low uptake in some areas, particularly in the north-east of England. 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.”
The NAHT said there were also “specific frustrations” for schools because of restrictions on the scheme, including the ratio of three pupils to one tutor when head teachers would prefer one-to-one tuition for some pupils. In addition pupils can only be enrolled in one of maths, English or science at a time, in 15 week blocs.
James Bowen, the NAHT’s director of policy and a former headteacher, gesê: “It’s those kinds of restrictions that school leaders say are a massive frustration and don’t properly reflect the challenges they are facing on the ground.”
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.”