It isn’t news to any of us that schools are already at breaking point, dealing with issues such as low attendance, increases in mental wellbeing cases, a lack of teachers and rising energy costs. Indeed, 90% of schools face potential deficits in their budgets in the next year just at a time when the attainment gap is at its worst in over a decade. It’s no wonder there are voices saying that the system needs fixing.

The flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP) which was aimed at supporting our youngsters most in need has not reached its objective – indeed in the first year less than half of children receiving extra support were disadvantaged, with significant funds being unspent due to a system which wasn’t fit for purpose. In short, it failed those pupils who needed it most.

Knowing the situation to be so dire, Government has reacted by seeing the £100m+ of unspent funding as an opportunity to claw back funds into the Treasury. But really, they’re clawing back the education of our poorest and least supported pupil cohort. (Tutoring: Treasury to claw back £100m+ of unspent funding (

School leaders are aghast that the money has been clawed back. Heads we have spoken to have told us how the DfE is asking for unspent NTP funds to be returned unless schools can evidence that the money has been spent as it should. There are two problems here:

  • Firstly, given the ridiculous rules and administrative burden surrounding the initial NTP, many schools will not be in a position to properly evidence spend and may well have to ‘return’ cash already spent, worsening their already poor financial position.
  • And secondly, who in their right mind – knowing the facts regarding the attainment gap and poor targeting of the NTP – would claw back much-needed catch-up support funding from schools who rightly expected to be able to reattribute this money to start putting things right. As school leaders have said, the decision is perverse.

At a time when our young people have never been so challenged, the priority seems to be to balance the books rather than balancing the life chances of poorer pupils compared to their better-off peers.  Can someone at the DfE please tell us why this makes any sense, and why investment in unwelcome programmes such as Oak take priority over our children most in need? I for one am saddened that we have managed to let our children down so badly. Like everyone else, I hope that the budget next week will recognise the urgent need to support all of our young people and allow schools to do what they do best – teach and nurture proactively rather than micro-manage school budgets with caution and compromise.

We’re not waiting though – in the meantime we’re continuing to work alongside EdTech industry partners and schools to collaborate and find new ways that support our school leaders and pupils with programmes that are evidenced, affordable and address the whole child. We’ll tell you more in the coming few weeks!

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