North East school leaders respond to tutoring ‘catch up’ plans

26th June 2020

In response to the government announcement of £1 billion towards Covid ‘catch-up’, we sent out a survey to ask our the school leaders in our network about the tutoring programme that forms part of this fund. The survey received over 100 responses, representing schools and trusts in every Local Authority in the North East.


The responses to the survey show a great deal of uncertainty around the tutoring programme, with almost 50% of respondents unsure about how effective the scheme will be. Of the remaining half, they were split almost evenly between support and opposition to the programme.

Despite this, two thirds said that they would make use of the funding available, with almost 30% as yet unsure, and only a very small number saying that they would not make use of it.

We also asked what specific concerns school leaders had about the scheme, with logistical plans (such as arranging times/space or online platforms) the top concern (with over 70% ticking this option). Over 60% also identified ‘introducing new relationships to children’ and ‘lack of engagement’, as concerns and over 50% selected the lack of provision for mental health and wellbeing aspects of catchup, and just under 40% had concerns about planning the curriculum.

EEF research

In 2018, the EEF produced a review of the evidence of the effectiveness of small group tuition. The evidence shows that it is effective, especially as groups get smaller. Once group size increases above six or seven there is a noticeable reduction in effectiveness. However, their review of one to one tuition proved to be much more effective, delivering approximately five additional months’ progress on average. This distinction is important as the breakdown of costs suggests that the scheme is more likely to be used for small groups than one-to-one

However, there is variability, suggesting that the quality of the teaching in small groups may be as or more important than the precise group size, and that the specific subject matter being taught and composition of the groups may influence outcomes.

More information on the National Tutoring Programme can be found on the EEF website.

Support for the scheme

An almost equal number of respondents expressed support for the proposals and the majority stated that they would make use of the programme. Those who are supportive felt it was important to embrace any additional intervention that might help address learning loss.

The tutoring approach was generally supported as it was seen as evidence based, with one-to-one tuition seen as likely to have an impact on narrowing any gaps (and a significant improvement over summer holiday catch up).

Several argued though that this scheme would only work if it was responsive to school needs, and as with those who are sceptical they noted that it would be necessary for teachers to identify the gaps and provide effective coordination to ensure a coherent curriculum.

Opposition to the scheme

A central concern was the lack of information, with the decision appearing rushed and no details on the role schools will be expected to play.  In particular, schools wanted to know who the tutors will be and of what quality. As teachers are best placed to identify which children will need support, and what that support needs to be, teaching staff will have to work with these tutors to ensure seamless delivery. However, there are concerns that this increased workload will add pressure on staff who have already had to take on additional stresses during the lockdown, without their usual holidays. The importance of the established relationship between pupils and teachers was noted (especially in AP settings), and again the extra workload this would mean for teachers as they support tutors.

Engagement was discussed as a challenge that may make the scheme counterproductive. Without details, it is not clear when tutoring will take place. If this is out of school time, there may be poor engagement from those disadvantaged pupils who need it most. One respondent said: ‘The key to success is engagement and as this is aimed at disadvantaged children, many of whom have not attended school here, despite being specifically invited to do so’. Attendance issues could cause more problems than benefits if those who need the support are not accessing it.

Financial problems were raised by several respondents, questioning if this was really new money as it was also announced that the catch up fund for year 7s was being ended. There are fears that the funding doesn’t amount to much per student,with suggested estimates between £50-90 per head, and questions about whether or not schools could afford the 25% contribution they have to make towards these programmes.

Finally, respondents argued that whatever possible benefits there may be as a result of the tutoring scheme, schools want more substantial planning on catch up. Many viewed this current plan as a quick fix rather than a long term solution, and argued instead for better support for responses from schools, who are best placed to know how to spend and build capacity to address the learning loss and disadvantage gap, both now and in the future. Schools wanted to employ their own staff to deal with these challenges, and wanted extra teachers to allow smaller classes and group work.

How long do you expect ‘catch up’ to take?

We also asked how long school leaders believed that catch up would take. Of those that responded to this question, over 40% felt it would take more than an academic year; just under 40% felt it would take one academic year, around 10% two terms, and less than 5% one term. This further highlights the need for long-term planning and deeper thinking, regardless of the effectiveness of any tutoring programme.

Discretionary Spending

While the Government expects that the proportion of funding going directly to schools should be spent on tutoring, they have confirmed that this is at the discretion of school leaders. Therefore we are keen to know, what are your spending priorities? Please complete our very short survey to let us know.