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Almost half of Johnson’s ‘education catch-up’ fund remains unallocated | Schools

The £350m “massive catch-up operation” pledged by Boris Johnson to help pupils affected by the coronavirus lockdown has run into difficulties, with 40% of its funding so far unallocated.

An investigation by Schools Week has found that only £106m of the £350m fund will go towards the national tutoring programme (NTP) backed by Johnson, which aims to offer subsidised one-to-one and small-group tuition for disadvantaged school pupils in England.

But earlier this month, only “hundreds” of England’s more than 22,000 state schools had expressed an interest in signing up to the programme, which launches in November.

The investigation found that the DfE has underspent by £139m, and appears unlikely to find ways to spend it on tuition for the current school year as promised. According to a DfE spokesperson, the fate of the remainder will be decided by the government’s spending review next month.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Yet more sleight of hand from government. Again, they’ve overpromised but underdelivered.”

In June, when the fund was launched as part of Johnson’s £1bn coronavirus catch-up scheme, £650m went directly to schools to help pupils aged up to 16. The remaining £350m was earmarked for a national tutoring programme during the 2020-21 school year.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, told parliament: “The plan will be delivered throughout the next academic year, bringing long-term reform to the educational sector that will protect a generation of children from the effects of this pandemic.”

But Schools Week found that just £211m of the £350m has been allocated, including £96m going to schools and colleges for students aged 16-19, with recipients able to spend it on their own staff and catch-up plans. Another £9m is reserved for early-years language intervention programmes.

Of the remaining £106m, £76m funds the NTP’s “tuition partners”, an approved set of companies and charities offering subsidised tuition to schools.

A spokesperson for the NTP said it expected to fund around 30-50 tuition partners across England after a “rigorous review process”, including their previous experience of working with schools.

The first tutorials are to take place in November. “We are aiming to start to deliver to several thousand [pupils] in the first six weeks after launch and expect to ramp up support in the spring term as the scheme beds down and as demand and awareness increase,” the spokesperson said.

A further £30m is for 1,000 individual academic mentors to provide “intensive and frequent support” for pupils. But only 150 of the 1,000 mentors will be working in schools from November, the Guardian revealed earlier this month, with 400 arriving in January and the remaining 450 in February. The mentoring programme is to end in July.

School leaders have been largely sceptical of the tuition programme, with most saying they would prefer to be given more funding to use on their own schemes.

More recently, Johnson said in a speech to the Conservative party conference that one-to-one tuition could be extended to include talented pupils.

Johnson said he wanted “to take further an idea that we have tried in the pandemic, and explore the value of one-to-one teaching, both for pupils who are in danger of falling behind, and for those who are of exceptional abilities”.

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