To save tuition, we must let the NTP die

Calls to extend NTP funding recognise tuition’s positive impact but ignore more effective ways to fund it to achieve more equitable outcomes

Calls to extend NTP funding recognise tuition’s positive impact but ignore more effective ways to fund it to achieve more equitable outcomes

3 Mar 2024, 5:00

Earlier in February, more than 400 schools sent a letter to the prime minister, the chancellor and the  education secretary advocating for the extension of National Tutoring Programme (NTP) funding beyond its sunset at the end of this academic year. Without this support, they argue, the progress achieved in shrinking the Covid attainment gap might unravel. But is more NTP funding really the best way forward?

Throughout its lifespan, the programme’s subsidies have dwindled and schools’ satisfaction has followed suit. What started with enthusiasm is now often a question of affordability over quality — a compromise we shouldn’t have to make in education.

As the rules around NTP funding have shifted, it’s become tough to track the direct impact of these funds on student attainment. Surely the first step before any such extension is agreed should be to examine not just the intent behind such initiatives, but their actual effectiveness on the ground.

When you take a step back, it becomes clear that extending the NTP exactly as it is, isn’t the silver bullet we’re looking for. Perhaps it’s time to consider alternatives that give schools a broader scope to cater to their students’ needs without being tied down to one specific programme.

Let’s talk about the pupil premium, for example. This funding gives schools the leeway to use resources in a way that makes the most sense for their students. If we channel more funds in this direction, on a per-student basis, we empower schools to support their disadvantaged learners with a level of flexibility that a single programme like the NTP can’t offer.

When the pupil premium launched in 2011 it was laser-focused on increasing academic attainment. Over the years it has shifted to a more general purpose of supporting pupils in the school environment. This makes sense given the budget shortfalls schools have faced in the intervening time period, but a refocus would make sense.

NTP has done a lot of good – but it’s time to retire it

In fact, there is a good case to be made for it to be split into two pots: one focused on academic progress and another for broader support. Schools were using the pupil premium for tuition long before Covid and the NTP. They will continue to do so, and could perhaps do it more effectively if they are less tied up with red tape, especially if the focus shifts back to measuring resulting academic progress. 

Ultimately, we all want the same thing: to lift up those students who’ve been knocked down by circumstance, whether that is due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, by economic disadvantages, or by other challenges in accessing quality education. And while we can all agree that education funding is essential, it might be time for a strategy that trusts schools to make the most of their resources. After all, they know their students best, the challenges they face and what it takes to overcome them.

The NTP was a welcome post-pandemic initiative. It has done a lot of good in a short period of time and it has also raised the quality standards of tutoring providers overall. But now, in short, it’s time to retire it.

Instead, we need to give schools the power to choose — to invest in quality educational support tailored to their students, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s not just about keeping a programme running; it’s about ensuring that every pound spent genuinely contributes to a student’s learning journey.

As we move forward, we need policymaking that reflects a deeper trust in our educators. Let’s provide them with the means to wield their expertise effectively and make a lasting difference where it truly counts.

By shifting the conversation from whether we extend the programme to how we can best support our educators and students, we open the door to innovative, sustainable solutions that hold the key to educational equity.

Ending the NTP doesn’t have to mean tuition once again becomes the preserve of those who can afford it. It can mean putting schools in the driving seat to close educational gaps. Tuition will be an instrumental part of that work, but only if quality – not affordability – is our primary concern.

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