Frustration at lack of consultation over DfE's £1bn catch-up programme

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

School leaders have expressed their frustration at being kept in the dark over the government’s plans for a £1 billion catch-up tutoring programme.

The one-year, £350m National Tutoring Programme (NTP) will be set up to offer catch-up support to primary and secondary school pupils “who have missed out on learning during school closures”.

In addition, schools are to receive £650 million in 2020/21 to support catch up activities. However, there is uncertainty over how this money will be allocated – with concern that it is not to be targeted specifically at disadvantaged students – and whether schools will have complete freedom over how it can be spent.

The Department for Education (DfE) says that state schools in England will be able to access high-quality tutoring via the NTP, which will target "the most disadvantaged young people over the 2020/21 academic year". There will be two strands:

  • NTP Partners: Schools will be able to access “heavily subsided” tuition from an approved list of tuition partners, who will be given support and funding to reach disadvantaged pupils.
  • NTP Coaches: Trained graduates will by employed by schools in the most disadvantaged areas to provide intensive catch-up support to their pupils.

Recent analysis from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests that the coronavirus lockdown could undo the progress made since 2011 to close the attainment gap between poorer students and their peers.

One-to-one and small-group tuition is considered by the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit to be one of the most effective methods, with the evidence showing it can boost pupil progress by up to five months.

The NTP has been created through collaboration between the EEF, the Sutton Trust, Impetus and Nesta.

Meanwhile, the DfE says that schools have discretion on how to spent the £650 million, although it said that "the government expects this to be spent on small group tuition for whoever needs it".

The EEF has also produced guidance for schools on how they might best target this funding. It suggests it be spent on things like small group tuition, extra teaching capacity and intervention programmes.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has welcomed the scheme, calling it a “significant investment” which will “help to support the work that schools are already undertaking in drawing up catch-up plans”.

However, ASCL is frustrated that schools leaders have been left to “piece together the detail” of the scheme and have not been involved in discussions.

Mr Barton added: “It remains frustrating that we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss any of this with the government ahead of this announcement and that we once again find ourselves having to piece together the detail.

“We really do need a much more collaborative approach so that the government and profession can together work on developing a really effective, joined-up national plan.”

He added: “There are clearly going to be questions about the planned model for the NTP. Could the £350 million of funding be better used by simply providing it to schools to fund catch-up programmes, rather than subsidising tutoring organisations?

“And if schools are expected to pay towards the cost of the tutors how does this square with the fact that school funding has been very uneven for many years and some institutions will have far less capacity to afford these costs?

“There is certainly a great deal of merit in one-to-one and small group tuition and we are not dismissing the idea, but it is right that we ask these questions.”

“On the £650 million funding to be shared across state primary and secondary schools, Mr Barton added: “We are confused by the assertion that headteachers will decide how the money is spent, when this is immediately followed by an expectation that it should be used on small group tuition.”

There is also concern that the funding is not being allocated based on the basis of disadvantage. David Laws, executive chair of the Education Policy Institute, has raised concerns that the funding will be "poorly targeted".

He added: “In spite of the very clear evidence that the most disadvantaged children are suffering the greatest learning loss, the government has chosen to allocate the bulk of the extra cash to schools without any reference to disadvantage. This implies that a school with a very affluent catchment will receive the same funding as a similar sized school in the poorest part of the country.

"In our view, this is not an efficient or well targeted policy, if the aim is to ensure that the most vulnerable learners don’t fall badly behind. Increasing the Pupil Premium would have been a more sensible approach.”

The four organisations behind the NTP are currently running pilots of four different models of online tuition. The findings will "feed into" the evidence underpinning the NTP. The NTP will be running an open call to select organisations to deliver the tutoring.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said: “When it comes to schooling, Covid-19 has done huge damage, at speed, to our children’s prospects, putting their futures in danger. Many pupils have fallen significantly behind in their learning. These pupils come disproportionately from poorer homes.

“There is strong evidence that high-quality tuition is a cost-effective way to enable pupils to catch up. While it is certainly no silver bullet, access to tuition will be key to supporting the work of teachers in mitigating the impact of school closures in the coming months and years.”

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the EEF, said: “Tutoring is the catch-up approach supported by the strongest evidence we have. This is a tremendous opportunity to offer bespoke support for disadvantaged pupils, and to build a positive legacy from the present crisis.”

The National Education Union (NEU) has also welcomed the funding as "recognition of the importance of education”. However, it said that if social distancing is still required in September, a full-time return to education means government will have to find extra education staff and extra teaching spaces.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney added: “The government should right now be working on a Summer Holiday Local Offer, on delivering broadband to all those children who still need it and reading books to all children in receipt of free school meals.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “We asked the government to follow the evidence on what works, and they appear to have done this. We have argued that a longer-term response is the right way forward, rather than short-term quick fixes that won’t have a sustained impact for pupils.

“No doubt there will be many details still to be worked through and we will continue to engage with the government to make sure they work with school leaders and their teams, drawing on their commitment and expertise, to produce a long-term, joined up and fully funded package of help.”

For more information on the NTP, including an FAQ sheet, visit

For the EEF guidance for schools, visit


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