Revealed: Top five reasons schools plan to drop the National Tutoring Programme

The top five reasons for schools dropping out of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) next year have been revealed – with the reduced subsidy top of the list.

A new study from the NFER (Moore & Lord, 2023) has found that two-thirds of school leaders currently using the NTP plan to continue using the scheme next year – even though many feel it is not cost-effective.

The research involved 439 school leaders in primary and secondary schools and found that:

  • 34% are currently using the NTP and plan to continue using it from September.
  • 18% are currently using the NTP but plan to stop.
  • 18% have previously used the NTP but have already stopped.
  • 25% have never used the NTP.

The survey finds that 76% of those currently using the NTP believe it is improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, while 73% believe the programme allows them to prioritise pupils most in need of academic support.

However, while 42% said the NTP was cost-effective, 45% disagreed. Furthermore, 58% said they do not think tutoring is a long-term solution to closing the attainment gap.

The NTP is a core strand of the DfE’s £3.5bn Covid recovery programme and has been allocated £1bn over four years. Next year, £150m will be available to schools.

The Department for Education (DfE) had been due to reduce its tutoring subsidy from 60% to just 25% from September – but it has now confirmed that it will only fall to 50%.

However, it means that schools will still be required to stump up 50% of the cost of NTP interventions – which headteachers say will be impossible for many given the state of school budgets. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said that schools which struggled to cover 40% of the cost of tutoring this year will find it no easier to cover 50% of the cost next year.

The NFER study states: “More than half (55%) of the senior leaders who reported that they had either dropped out of the NTP already or planned to drop out at the end of the current academic year, cited the reduced subsidy as one of the main reasons for their decision.

“In addition, 37% noted that the annual funding arrangements for the NTP made it difficult for them to forward plan.”

The research identified the top five reasons cited by the school leaders for dropping out of the NTP:

  • The reduced subsidy (55%).
  • Annual funding arrangements for the NTP made it difficult to forward plan (35%).
  • Difficulties sourcing suitable tutors (28%).
  • Administrative burden required to access the funding was too high (27%).
  • Reporting requirements for the funding were too burdensome (23%)

Among its recommendations, the report calls on the government to explore how additional financial support can be made available to schools over a longer period to allow tutoring to become embedded. It also wants to see more notice about funding arrangements for new programmes and a review of the administrative requirements to “access, implement and report upon NTP funding”.

Dr Ben Styles, the NFER’s head of classroom practice and workforce, said: “School leaders mostly believe the NTP is helping disadvantaged pupils, but many feel this support comes at too high a cost in terms of finances and administration. Tutoring is not yet embedded in schools. Long-term financial support is needed alongside reductions to the administrative burden on staff.

“Leaders would also benefit from much more notice on changes to funding arrangements, so they can forward plan and budget properly. Overcoming these barriers is vital if tutoring is to win the hearts and minds of schools and be seen as a sustainable way of helping to close the attainment disadvantage gap.”

Commenting on the report, Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, repeated his concerns about the impact on school budgets: “The biggest problem with the NTP is that it is only partially subsidised by the government with the rest of the cost falling on school budgets. Schools struggle to afford these costs because of years of government underfunding of the education system. As the government intends to reduce the subsidy next academic year the programme will obviously become unaffordable for an increasing number of schools.

“The problem could easily be solved by the government simply giving the full allocation for the NTP to schools without requiring them to add extra money into the pot. We have made this argument on several occasions and just cannot understand why ministers do not take this simple step.”

James Bowen, assistant general secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “This reflects what our members tell us: that tutoring can have a positive impact, particularly for disadvantaged pupils. But school leaders remain very concerned about falling subsidy levels and question whether the government is committed to the programme in the longer term.

“School budgets are incredibly tight, some are at breaking point, and that makes finding the additional money required to run the programme extremely challenging for many. As this report shows, the vast majority of schools dropping out of the NTP do so for financial reasons. If the government is serious about making this work, they need to signal that they will invest in tutoring properly and for the long term.”