The first wave of NTP had to make in-flight changes to accommodate looked-after children. The second wave must pre-empt remaining challenges, writes Simon Barnes

When the national tutoring programme launched last November, the criteria for student inclusion was registration on a school roll. In theory, this made sense; every child in the country should be on a school roll.

But the reality is that some are not. Many students remain outside of mainstream education in the long term for a number of reasons, while others are simply between schools. These students are more likely to be looked-after. For them, it is their virtual school who needed access to the NTP to support them.

Unfortunately, they initially lacked that access. The NTP is designed to support schools, including special schools and alternative provision. It is up to them to decide which of their pupils need the programme’s support. They are encouraged to select disadvantaged children, including those who are looked after, but that’s far from a guarantee.

Thankfully, the NTP identified this issue early on and updated their criteria to allow virtual schools to access tuition for these students. Now, as we approach the end of the first academic year of the programme, we have an opportunity to reflect on how the programme has adapted to support some of the most vulnerable children in the country.

Because challenges remain. As a virtual school head, if children in your care are on a school roll, you need to ask their schools to consider them for inclusion in the NTP if they’ve yet to be included. And if schools have put together very specific tuition plans for the NTP based on academic priorities (for example, tuition for their year 10s with GCSEs looming large), looked-after children could still miss out.

In addition, we’ve seen some confusion persist within virtual schools regarding their suitability for the programme. So there’s still a job of communication to be done.

There’s still a job of communication to be done

All looked-after children are eligible for pupil premium funding. They are therefore the exact demographic the NTP is designed to support. Some 6,000 schools are currently signed up to the NTP, and it is likely that many of those will have selected their looked-after children for tutoring. But given the above challenges, how do we ensure more of them can access that support in September?

First, it is important that it is not just senior leadership teams who make decisions around NTP selection. Special educational needs coordinators and other teachers who are directly responsible for looked-after children need to be involved too. These teachers traditionally set up supplementary tuition for the children they are responsible for anyway, so they should be able to directly utilise the programme. Working out how to get them more involved will be key.

Second, virtual schools need to know students are signed up to the NTP. Whoever the government appoints to run the programme going forward should make this a priority. There may be difficulties with data sharing, but virtual schools should be able to easily identify which of their students are accessing the additional catch-up tuition, enabling them to apply directly and put their own NTP packages in place for those that are not.

Prior to the NTP launching, we had already worked with over half of the virtual schools through their Pupil Premium Plus funding. That has meant we have been able to engage some of them in the new programme, organising tuition for students in between school places.

Going forward, the independent evaluation of the NTP’s Tuition Partners pillar will tell us more about looked-after children’s involvement. It will be important that we learn from that process for year two, so that we can specifically track tuition benefitting these children.

Huge strides have already been made to catch up. Now is the time to ensure the most vulnerable are included and given the support they need – not simply to keep them on track with what would be covered during school, but to help them restart their education with confidence.