The government has been accused of misleading school leaders, pupils and parents after finally admitting that the £350 million for the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) is for two years, not one.
An investigation by Schools Week earlier this year showed that £140 million of the promised £350 million for the NTP to run across this academic year remained unspent.
By effectively halving the funding available this year the government is seriously letting down pupils and their parents
Last week we revealed the programme would be extended and now the Department for Education has confirmed this unspent cash will fund the programme next year.
Ministers have promised £350 million for the NTP this year at least six times in official communications since June.
Wes Streeting, the shadow schools minister, said they had “misled pupils, parents and school leaders”.
“With a million children out of school last week and the attainment gap widening under this government, urgent action is needed now to help pupils catch up on their lost learning.
“By effectively halving the funding available this year the government is seriously letting down pupils and their parents.”
The NTP was unveiled in June as part of a £1 billion package to help pupils catch up following partial school closures. But even the announcement was fraught with problems.
On June 18, ahead of the official unveiling, the DfE told journalists that the catch-up package included £300 million for a “multi-year national tutoring programme”.
But it reissued its press release just over two hours later to say that the NTP would have £350 million in funding and provide support “over the 2020-21 academic year”.
Schools Week understands the change was made after Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, lost an argument with the Treasury over the programme’s length. Williamson had argued for multi-year funding, but the Treasury insisted it all be spent in one year.
Schools Week also understands that officials in the department were expecting the funding to cover multiple years, but were waiting for confirmation in the spending review.
Despite this, DfE ministers subsequently claimed six times in responses to written questions from MPs that the NTP was a one-year programme.
The department claims the statements weren’t false at the time they were made, because the programme’s extension wasn’t announced until the spending review.
During a parliamentary debate on Thursday, Robert Halfon, the chair of the education committee, called on Williamson to instead use the unspent £140 million on ensuring every pupil was prepared for exams this year.
The NTP has been criticised since its launch. School leaders have complained it only allows tutoring for pupils in one subject and mostly has to be done in school, causing issues during the pandemic.
Williamson did not address the question in his response.
Schools Week can also now confirm that a £400 million figure listed as for education spending in 2021-22, buried in spending review papers, is not new money.
This figure relates to money already promised from June’s £1 billion catch-up fund.