The tuition gap between rich and poor families in England has almost disappeared thanks to the government’s pandemic recovery programme, but funding cuts threaten to widen it once more, according to a new report.
The Sutton Trust disclosed that the government’s national tutoring programme (NTP), which targeted extra help for disadvantaged pupils through their schools, has almost eradicated the gap in access to tuition enjoyed by wealthier families.
Research by the trust, which campaigns for greater social mobility through education, found that 32% of children in the worst-off households reported taking up extra tuition in school, compared with 22% in the most well-off families.
Once private tuition was included, the trust found that 39% of those from the most well-off households were tutored last year, compared with 37% from the worst-off households.
The report’s authors said that while use of private tutoring was continuing to rise, “the national tutoring programme is allowing a much wider group of pupils to access tutoring, with the potential to help level the playing field between the most and least disadvantaged”.
The data shows that regions with the lowest rates of private tutoring, such as the north-east, east Midlands and Yorkshire, now have the highest rates of in-school tutoring.
The tutoring programme was launched in November 2020 to help children in England make up for learning lost during the coronavirus pandemic, when schools were closed to most pupils for months at a time during 2019 and 2020.
The government currently funds 60% of the costs of tutoring, with schools paying 40%. But later this year the government’s subsidy is to be cut to 25%.
Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, called for the subsidy to be maintained at current level and for the national tutoring programme to continue.
“Although there have been issues with delivery, the NTP … has changed the landscape of tutoring, giving young people the opportunity to receive tuition who would never have been able to afford it.
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“Rather than treating it as a short-term catch-up programme, it should be part of an ongoing national effort to tackle the attainment gap,” Lampl said.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that without subsidies schools would struggle to continue the programme because of budget constraints.
“The government must not think short term when it comes to tutoring. The NTP has a real possibility to help with levelling up, if it is invested in properly. But if subsidies are left as they are, the government could end up destroying its own initiative just as it begins to do some good,” Whiteman said.