National tutoring programme has failed pupils and taxpayers, says Labour | Education

Labour has accused the government’s flagship national tutoring programme (NTP) of failing children and taxpayers after official figures revealed take-up rates way below target.

Just 10% of this year’s target for children receiving one-to-one or small group tutoring from NTP tuition partners has been reached so far, with figures showing headteachers in England favouring their own school-led tuition programmes over the national scheme, which was controversially awarded to the Dutch multinational Randstad.

The NTP progress report coincided with the latest official school attendance figures, which showed nearly 5% of state school teachers in England were absent because of Covid infections on the very first days of the spring term.

The Department for Education (DfE) figures also revealed that more children stayed off school last week because of Covid than at the end of last term, with 315,000 students and pupils absent for Covid-related reasons – 3.9% of all pupils nationally and 14,000 more than on 16 December.

On catchup, the DfE said pupils in England began just over 300,000 tutoring courses last term and insisted that the NTP was on track to deliver its target of 2m courses this academic year.

Of those already under way, an estimated 230,000 were school-led tutoring packages, while just 52,000 were provided by the national scheme, far short of the 524,000 target for this academic year. Another strand of the national scheme, which involves tutoring through academic mentors, has so far started 20,000 courses, out of a target of 252,000.

Randstad was awarded the NTP contract last June after it put in a bid substantially lower than its rivals. A separate school-led tutoring route was also set up, with schools receiving £579m directly to employ their own catchup tutors.

The shadow schools minister, Stephen Morgan, said: “Covid learning loss threatens to limit the life chances of a generation of our children, yet the government’s flagship tutoring scheme has reached less than 10% of pupils targeted. A third of the way through the school year, this cut-price contract is failing children and the taxpayer.”

Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “The government’s tutoring revolution risks stalling unless more is done to ensure that high quality easy-to-access tutoring support is available to every school, for all pupils that need it, in every single part of the country.”

Robin Walker, the schools minister, said: “We know there is still work to do, but it’s hugely encouraging to see so many students from all backgrounds have been directly reached through the government’s tutoring programme and I encourage all schools to take advantage of it.”

A Randstad spokesperson said: “We are really pleased to see how many pupils have already benefited from catchup tutoring through the programme this academic year. We are continuing to work closely with all of our stakeholders to ensure we deliver an ambitious and high-quality programme at pace, for schools to help their pupils whose education has been most impacted.”

On attendance, the January total includes 159,000 pupils absent with confirmed cases of Covid and 102,000 with suspected cases – but it does not include those isolating after a positive PCR test result, who are defined as ill.

More worryingly, the figures also show rising numbers of staff absences. Among teachers and school leaders, 4% were off on 6 January with a confirmed Covid infection, nearly double the 2.2% absent for the same reason on 16 December. Among teaching assistants and other school staff, 5% were off with a confirmed Covid infection, compared with just 1.5% on 16 December.

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