catch-up

Government plans to “taper” subsidies for tuition delivered by its flagship National Tutoring Programme could leave schools having to pay 90 per cent of the cost of sessions within three years.

The Department for Education has published a £62 million tender for a supplier to run the NTP between May this year and next August.

However tender documents seen by Schools Week reveal the government is planning to dramatically reduce its subsidy of the scheme over the coming years.

This is despite research accompanying the tender warning a decrease in subsidies could “skew provision away from the most disadvantaged schools”.

The documents also confirm a move to extend the NTP for two further years after 2021-22, as revealed by Schools Week in January.

The NTP was launched last year to help children catch up on lost learning brought about during the Coronairus pandemic. It is split across two pillars – tuition partners and academic mentors. The tuition element offers 15 hours of subsidised tutoring for school pupils.

Currently schools pay just 25 per cent of the cost of tutoring sessions, with the remaining 75 per cent subsidised by the government.

Subsidy could fall to 10% by 2023-24

But tender documents show the government plans to reduce subsidies slightly to 70 per cent next year, then to 50 per cent for 2022-23 and to just 10 per cent in 2023-24.

The subsidy levels between 2022 and 2024 are “subject to spend[ing] review confirmation and may be subject to change”, the documents state.

But even in the documents, concerns are raised about the impact of tapering the subsidies.

Preliminary findings of an “NTP year 2 subsidies discussion”, published alongside the tender documents, state that “90 per cent of schools not part of NTP highlight insufficient budget as a main barrier to participation”.

It also found “at current subsidy levels, the most disadvantaged schools are taking up NTP tuition at a lower rate than other schools; a decrease in subsidies could further skew provision away from the most disadvantaged schools”.

However, the government believes a “tapering” subsidy model will help make the NTP sustainable in future years. It is understood ministers want schools to use greater levels of pupil premium funding to fund “evidence-based” programmes, such as tutoring.

An accompanying NTP report on multi-year support states the scheme “could be the latest example of government successfully jumpstarting a market” and gives examples of how the government’s plug-in electric car grant in 2011 has increased ownership of electric vehicles.

Pupil number targets increased

During a presentation shown to organisations interested in running the second phase in January, the DfE stated it was aiming to provide 15 hours subsidised tutoring to about 450,000 disadvantaged pupils through its tuition partners in the second year of the scheme, up from 250,000 this year.

However the tender documents reveal expectations have now risen to 524,000 pupils for 2021-22 and 650,000 for the following two years.

In December, a prior information notice stated a future contract for phase two of the programme would be worth £130 million. However, Schools Week understands the overall amount allocated to the programme in 2021-22 has now exceeded that figure.

It follows an announcement from the prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday that an extra £83 million would be spent on the NTP, on top of part of the initial £350 million funding, which is being carried over into next year.

Second-year funding could exceed £180m

The tender for a supplier is worth £62 million, but this excludes subsidies for the programme. The tender documents state the DfE has “provisioned circa £120 million already for subsidy payments” for 2021-22. This means the total government spend in year two could amount to over £180 million.

The current tuition partners programme is run by the Education Endowment Foundation, and was designed with the help of four other charities – the Sutton Trust, Impetus, Nesta and Teach First.

It is not known if EEF will bid again to run the scheme for a second year.

A Teach First spokesperson told Schools Week  it would “need time to carefully consider before deciding what role we might want to play in its future”.