07 Dec 2020
By Mark Richards
After the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown caused the closing of schools earlier this year, the government announced a support package of subsidised catch-up tutoring for disadvantaged pupils. The concern, of course, is that it is the disadvantaged that have been disproportionately affected by the disruption to their education.
32 external providers have been chosen to deliver the tutoring in the £76 million government-funded scheme. However, a warning has now been issued, suggesting that the initial demand for support from schools is already outstripping the forecasted take-up by a whopping 500%. Observers note that the funding will almost certainly need to be increased substantially increased next year. It has been suggested that the scale of the task at hand has been sorely underestimated by the government.
In fact, it has emerged that in the first 24 hours of the subsidised scheme going live some schools requested support for more than 100 pupils from their cohort. These numbers equate to an outstripping of predicted expectations by between 500% and 900%. Initial estimates were that each school would be looking for about 10-15 disadvantaged students to receive tutoring support.
Demand for catch-up tutors
£76 million has been allocated to fund the 32 Tuition Partners. The scheme enables schools to purchase subsidised external tutoring for disadvantaged students who have been most affected by the pandemic lockdown. Of course, the scheme has been welcomed but it does look like funding will need to be increased in 2021. In June, the DfE said that the National Tutoring Programme was designed to support up to 2 million of the most disadvantaged students in England. However, it now appears that the money that is available will only be enough to reach a small fraction of that number.
Naturally, given the size of the task in hand, schools are saying that they want only qualified teachers to take on the tutoring. Provision for the National Tutoring Programme is set to increase further after Christmas, which may go some way to meet the high demand for support for pupils.
We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that the lockdown earlier in the year will have had on the most disadvantaged students in the country. Despite the best efforts of schools, there were a significant number of children that did not engage with online learning during this period – or who couldn’t access it. Many families lack the laptops and digital devices needed for online learning and internet access in general is still an issue for some.
The result is that many of the students who needed support the most ended up doing very little learning during the first lockdown. All schools have been open since September, but a significant amount of disruption has still occurred as individuals, classes and even whole year groups have been forced to self-isolate when a Covid case hits. There is much catching-up to do and the situation is still far from normal, making things difficult and challenging for schools.
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