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School leader survey finds NTP helps disadvantaged

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School leader survey suggests National Tutoring Programme is helping disadvantaged pupils, but views split on cost-effectiveness of tutoring

New survey data suggests most senior school leaders believe the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) is allowing them to better support disadvantaged pupils, but many feel the programme is not cost-effective.

NFER has today published a report, Tutoring sustainability: Understanding the views of school leaders, after gathering the views of a nationally representative sample of senior leaders from primary and secondary schools in England. This included those who are currently participating in the NTP, have previously participated in the NTP, and have never participated in the NTP. The survey took place between 10 and 15 March 2023. 

The results found nearly two thirds (65 per cent) of the 52 per cent of senior leaders currently using the programme are planning to continue using it in the 2023/24 academic year. Three quarters (76 per cent) currently using the NTP believe it is improving the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils, while 73 per cent believe the programme selection guidance allows them to prioritise pupils most in need of academic support.

However, views on the cost-effectiveness of the programme are split (42 per cent believe it is cost-effective and 45 per cent do not) while 58 per cent of surveyed leaders do not think tutoring is a long-term solution to closing the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils.

The top five reasons given by senior leaders for dropping out of the NTP were:

  1. Reduced subsidy (55 per cent)
  2. Annual funding arrangements for the NTP made it difficult to forward plan (35 per cent)
  3. Difficulties sourcing suitable tutors (28 per cent)
  4. Administrative burden required to access the funding was too high (27 per cent)
  5. Reporting requirements for the funding were too burdensome (23 per cent)

Dr Ben Styles, NFER’s Head of Classroom Practice and Workforce, said:

“School leaders mostly believe the NTP is helping disadvantaged pupils, but many feel this support comes at too high a cost in terms of finances and administration.

“Tutoring is not yet embedded in schools. Long-term financial support is needed alongside reductions to the administrative burden on staff.

“Leaders would also benefit from much more notice on changes to funding arrangements, so they can forward plan and budget properly.

“Overcoming these barriers is vital if tutoring is to win the hearts and minds of schools and be seen as a sustainable way of helping to close the attainment disadvantage gap.”

The study also found:

  • Almost all (91 per cent) senior leaders currently using the NTP feel it has allowed them to offer support to more disadvantaged pupils and more than two thirds (68 per cent) have been able to hire or use additional staff. But nearly half (47 per cent) reported that their school only offers tutoring during normal lesson times.
  • Issues with NTP funding arrangements are the main reason schools are stopping delivery of the programme, but only 46 per cent of senior leaders agree that providing tutoring would be their top priority if more funding was available for supporting disadvantaged pupils.
  • The ability to source suitable tutors, administrative burden and time required to implement the NTP are barriers to sustainability as they are reducing take-up and/or causing drop-out from the programme.
  • More than half of all senior leaders surveyed (61 per cent) believe that other types of support are more effective than tutoring for improving attainment amongst disadvantaged pupils, including 42 per cent of senior leaders planning to continue using the NTP next year.

Among numerous recommendations, the report calls on the Government to:

  • Explore how additional financial support can be made available to schools over a longer period, to allow tutoring to become embedded in schools.
  • Provide schools with more notice about funding arrangements for new programmes to allow them to forward plan. 
  • Review and reduce the administrative requirements to access, implement and report upon NTP funding and that of other future programmes. 
  • Work with schools and tutoring organisations to understand their requirements for tutors and consider how best to recruit and retain tutors as part of a wider school workforce strategy.
  • Undertake further research to investigate which aspects of tutoring and its implementation can be optimised to improve attainment outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, so that best practice can be shared among schools.

Sector Response

James Bowen, assistant general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“This reflects what our members tell us: that tutoring can have a positive impact, particularly for disadvantaged pupils. But school leaders remain very concerned about falling subsidy levels and question whether the government is committed to the programme in the longer term. School budgets are incredibly tight, some are at breaking point, and that makes finding the additional money required to run the programme extremely challenging for many. As this report shows, the vast majority of schools dropping out of the NTP do so for financial reasons. If the government are serious about making this work, they need to signal that they will invest in tutoring properly and for the long term.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The biggest problem with the National Tutoring Programme is that it is only partially subsidised by the government with the rest of the cost falling on school budgets. Schools struggle to afford these costs because of years of government underfunding of the education system. As the government intends to reduce the subsidy next academic year – even though by less than it initially planned – the programme will obviously become unaffordable for an increasing number of schools. The problem could easily be solved by the government simply giving the full allocation for the National Tutoring Programme to schools without requiring them to add extra money into the pot. We have made this argument on several occasions and just cannot understand why ministers do not take this simple step.”

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