School leaders have accused Nadhim Zahawi of breaking his own wellbeing and workload commitments with a letter about plans for new tutoring league tables.
ASCL and the NAHT said they were “appalled” by the education secretary’s decision to write to leaders on bank holiday Monday to tell them school-level tutoring data will be made public in the autumn, as well as being shared with Ofsted.
In a letter to Zahawi (see full text below), they said this was a “direct contravention” of the Department for Education’s own staff wellbeing charter.
In the charter, the DfE committed to only publishing gov.uk alerts during working hours – unless there is a “significant user need to do so”, or a legislative requirement.
Unions also accused Zahawi of breaking his department’s own pledge that new policies on accountability should be brought in, wherever possible, at the beginning of the school year.
The DfE’s protocol for “changes to accountability, curriculum and qualifications” says there should be a lead in time of “at least” a year where the change requires schools to make “significant changes which will have an impact on staff workload”.
Media ‘invited to vilify schools’
The unions also questioned the DfE’s decision to circulate an embargoed press release “all but inviting the media to vilify schools” before leaders had a chance to read Zahawi’s letter.
On Monday, leaders accused the government of “political grandstanding” to distract from the “mess” made of the National Tutoring Programme this year.
In their letter, ASCL and the NAHT said they had shared feedback explaining low take-up in some schools, describing it as complex, of variable quality and lacking capacity.
They asked what research the DfE had done into the reasons why “significant numbers” of schools hadn’t yet engaged with the NTP.
Department for Education figures suggest two in five schools have not used government-funded tutoring yet.
ASCL and the NAHT have asked for an urgent meeting with Zahawi and senior civil servants to get answers to these questions.
The full letter
We were appalled by the Secretary of State’s decision to write to schools yesterday to announce his decision to publish data on the extent to which schools have engaged with the National Tutoring Programme, and to share this information with Ofsted. We are angry both at the content of the letter and at the fact that it was sent on a bank holiday, with an accompanying press release all but inviting the media to vilify schools. You can read our immediate response here, in which we describe this as “an attempt to shift the focus away from [the government’s] manifest failings and on to schools”.
Together with NAHT, we have today written to the Secretary of State, expressing our anger and setting out a number of questions we would like him to answer with regard to this letter.
These are as follows:
- Why was this letter sent to schools on a Bank Holiday Monday, in direct contravention of the DfE’s own staff wellbeing charter, in which you commit to “publish GOV. UK content aimed at education staff only during working hours (unless, for specific guidance documents, there is a significant user need not to do so, or there is a legislative requirement)”?
- Why did the government simultaneously put out a press release, sharing the details of this letter with the media – inviting the media to comment on it before most school and college leaders would have had the opportunity to read it?
- The DfE protocol for changes to accountability, curriculum and qualifications sets out the department’s commitments in response to the 2014 Workload Challenge: to introduce minimum lead in times for significant changes to accountability, the curriculum and qualifications; and to do more to consider the impact on schools when introducing such changes. The protocol states that new policies related to accountability, curriculum and qualifications should be brought in, wherever possible, at the beginning of the school year, and that there should be a lead in time of at least a year for any accountability, curriculum or qualifications initiative coming from the department which requires schools to make significant changes which will have an impact on staff workload.
This document states that the protocol may be subject to an override in cases where a change is urgently required, such as where there is clear evidence of abuse in the system which needs addressing. Reasons for any overrides will be communicated when the change is announced. Policy proposals on significant accountability, curriculum and qualifications changes sent to ministers should set out the workload impact on schools and the lead-in time. If the department protocol is likely to be overridden, this should be clear in the initial proposals sent to ministers.
Your stated intention, as set out in Monday’s letter, is to “publish data in the autumn term on each school’s tutoring delivery alongside the funding allocations and numbers of pupils eligible for the pupil premium” and to “share this information with Ofsted”. This represents a new accountability measure, which appears to breach the protocol. What is the reason for the protocol being overridden in this way? Was it made clear to you that this proposal fell into this category, as required by the protocol? Was the workload impact on schools set out to you, as required by the protocol? And why was the reason for this override not communicated when the change was announced, as required by the protocol?
- We have shared with you and your team at the DfE extensive anecdotal feedback as to why some schools have not yet engaged with the National Tutoring Programme, including the complexity of the requirements, the variable availability and quality of tutors, the lack of capacity in many schools to do anything more than attempt to keep the school open in the face of significant and ongoing Covid-related staff absences, the requirement for schools to contribute 25% of the cost of school-led tutoring themselves out of increasingly stretched budgets, and the inappropriateness of the programme for pupils in most specialist settings. What research has the department done into the reasons why significant numbers of schools haven’t yet engaged with the programme, and what more might need to change to support them in doing so?
- The letter said that the department will be contacting those schools yet to offer tutoring support to discuss their plans and offer further support to ensure they can offer tutoring to their pupils this term. What form will that ‘further support’ take?
- The letter also said that the department will publish data in the autumn term on each school’s tutoring delivery alongside the funding allocations and numbers of pupils eligible for the pupil premium, and will also share this information with Ofsted. How will Ofsted use this data?
- Given the extensive ongoing disruption to education this year as a result of the pandemic, and the fact that the decision was only recently made to move more funding into the school-led tutoring route, why are you not reviewing the requirement for any unspent funding to be returned to the department by the end of August? Would it not make more sense to enable schools to roll any unspent funding over to next year, to enable as many pupils as possible to benefit from tutoring?
- You intend to reduce the government subsidy for tutoring costs from 75% this year to 60% in 2022/23 and 25% in 2023/24. Given your stated desire, in the Schools White Paper, to “cement one-to-one and small group tuition as a permanent feature of our school system”, and given the significant additional pressures on school budgets as a result of increased energy costs in particular, are any discussions taking place about increasing the level of government subsidy for the NTP in subsequent years?
We have asked for an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State and appropriate senior civil servants to discuss the answers to these questions and what they anticipate happening next. We will let members know the outcome of that discussion.