By Geoff Barton
General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders
One of the likely early casualties of the education funding crisis could be the government’s flagship Covid education recovery policy, the National Tutoring Programme. This is because of the poorly thought-out funding mechanism which this year provides only 60% of the cost of tutoring with schools expected to fund the other 40%. Next year the situation gets even worse, with the government proposing to fund only 25% of the cost, with schools responsible for the other 75%.
The government’s view is that schools’ contributions should be sourced from other funding streams, such as the Pupil Premium, and there is a vague aspiration that this will eventually lead to the NTP becoming embedded in schools as part of their normal funding allocation.
The affordability of that ever happening was highly debatable even before spiralling inflation sent budgets into freefall, but now seems even more unrealistic. In fact, there is an immediate risk to the programme as schools look behind every cushion for savings to prevent them from going bust.
Who could blame them for axing NTP provision in order to try to mitigate some of the damage to core provision?
This is why we wrote to returning Education Minister Nick Gibb this week asking the government to take the immediate and obvious step of allowing schools to access the funding they’ve been earmarked – the 60% – without having to find the additional 40% themselves.
Obviously, this will mean that schools won’t be able to provide quite as much tutoring as they would if they put 40% into the pot – but given the current desperate state of school funding the imminent risk is that many schools will end up not offering NTP at all. This would lead to the ridiculous situation of the DfE having persuaded the Treasury to make this money available – no mean feat at the moment – but then not actually passing it on to schools because of the arcane conditions they have imposed.
Surely it’s better for the government to allow schools to access this money so that they can use it to support pupils – particularly as many children will still be feeling the educational impact of the pandemic and need catch-up support.
The NTP is not everybody’s cup of tea. There are issues about where it should be fitted into or around the school day, for example. And it has had a checkered history to say the least because of the government’s chaotic early iteration of the scheme which involved schools having to buy in subsidised provision from private tutors.
Since then, however, things have improved, with the funding now provided to schools to source tutoring in the way that works best for them, including the flexibility to use their own staff. We know from feedback that many schools find this provision useful in helping children to catch up.
However, the government can never do things simply, and the fact that the mechanism requires schools to put in 40% of the cost from stretched budgets has undoubtedly been a barrier. And schools with the tightest finances are obviously most likely to find it unaffordable which in turn means the scheme is inequitable.
So, allowing schools to access their allocated funding whether or not they can afford to further subside it themselves makes a lot of sense regardless of the present funding crisis.
What seems very unlikely to ever transpire is the government’s idea of a ‘tutoring revolution’ that will become a permanent feature of schools in England, although I am not sure whether that is even the aspiration of the current Dr Who-style regenerated government.
Regardless, the bottom line is that there isn’t remotely enough money for this or for anything else. It is a pipedream.
In the real world, the future is one of financial calamity unless there is a significant injection of money for education in the Autumn Statement on 17 November.
Geoff Barton is ASCL General Secretary.