NTP reviews rule requiring pupils to receive online tutoring in school

The National Tutoring Programme is reviewing its stipulation that pupils need to be in school for online sessions following an outcry from headteachers.

The NTP said it was working with “a number” of its tuition partners to ensure “necessary systems are in place to allow at home tuition to take place when needed”.

The stipulation about online tutoring was one of a number of barriers highlighted by heads this week after schools began to sign up for the programme.

Leaders have also found out they can only enter each pupil for tutoring in one subject, and that the tutor-to-pupil ratio is capped by most providers at 1:3, prompting schools to enquire about whether non-subsidised tutoring of larger groups might provide better value for money.

The government recently announced that 32 tuition partners had been selected for the programme, which is part of a £1 billion package to help schools assist pupils who missed out on education during partial closures.

Providers will receive 75 per cent of their funding from the public purse, while schools will have to pay the remaining 25 per cent of tutoring costs, with the help of a £650 million, £80 per-pupil catch-up grant.

But leaders raised concerns this week as they discovered a number of restrictions on the programme.

Jonathan Mountstevens, deputy head of Beaumont School in St Albans, said he was “gobsmacked” when he was told pupils had to be in school to receive the tutoring, even if it was all online.

He said the rule created a “huge issue with space” and issues with staff cover.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the ASCL leadership union, said the rule “obviously limits the usefulness of the programme, particularly as tutoring will typically need to take place outside the normal school day, and in light of the fact that pupils are intermittently having to self-isolate”.

A spokesperson for the NTP said providing tutoring during the school day “tends to have the largest impact”, and that attendance was likely to be lower for tutoring delivered at home.

They also said pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were “less likely to have the necessary technology or quiet space for effective tutoring to happen at home”.

But they added that the NTP “recognises that in exceptional circumstances, for example for pupils shielding or at home for extended periods, it may be beneficial to deliver tutoring to pupils at home”.

“The NTP team are currently working with a number of approved tuition partners to ensure the necessary systems are in place to allow at home tuition to take place when needed.”

However, Mountstevens said the NTP “misses the point that there is a lack of space during the school day, as well as the fact that we do not want students to miss more lessons”.

Schools have also cried foul over the rule restricting tutoring to one subject per pupil, and have pointed out that disadvantaged pupils often fall behind in several subjects, not just one.

Caroline Spalding, assistant headteacher at The Bemrose in Derby, said this “limits schools in targeting support to those in greatest need”

“Cynically, it could be argued that the future strapline ‘X million pupils have benefitted from the scheme’ has been prioritised over having the greatest possible impact to close the achievement gap.”

The NTP said it was “encouraging schools to identify the subject that pupils will most benefit from additional support” in so it could “ensure that tutoring reaches the highest number of disadvantaged pupils over this year”.

The programme has also been criticised after it emerged almost all of its providers will only subsidise tuition with a tutor-pupil ratio of 1:3 or less, despite many of the providers offering larger group sessions to full-paying customers.

For example, Vanessa Leach from tuition partner Tute told leaders on twitter that her firm usually charges £1,800 for sessions with 12 pupils, working out at £150 a pupil. Under the NTP, schools would pay £300 for three pupils, equivalent to £100 each.