There has been a huge row over the difference between the amount of money apparently recommended by Sir Kevan Collins (£15 billion) and the £1.4 billion allocated by the government. But as a tutor delivering Covid catch up lessons, I fear both sides are mssing the central point.
I recently signed up with a tutor agency to deliver tutor support lessons under the National Tutoring Programme. The agency was very thorough. I completed all the necessary online courses and was trained in the style of lesson they wanted me to deliver. To be honest, I wasn’t totally convinced by the lesson format they wanted, but they were the bosses and I felt it was easy to adapt my resources and produce a lesson in the format they required, using their template.
As always when you start a new job, you put a lot into your first lesson. I checked and double checked my slides, wondered whether I had the right amount of scaffolding (always tricky to assess when you don’t know the students) and kept changing my mind on certain activities before finalising it. On the day of the first lesson I logged on and waited. And waited. And waited. No student attended. At the end I filled in the register and hoped for better luck next time. I logged on and waited. And waited. And waited. No students attended, so I again filled in the register and this time an email was sent to the school which had enrolled the students. Third lesson, exactly the same thing happened. I had almost given up when in lesson 4 – hooray – I got students. Lessons have continued, but attendance is, let us say, patchy. One student in particular seems keen, but the school internet is very dodgy. When I asked them, I was told they don’t like to unmute as there are lots of students around when they are doing a lesson and it is noisy. So proper speaking practice is impossible (I tutor in MFL) I can and do ask them to say things, but I have no idea if they are saying them correctly.
After every lesson I go on to the attendance register and fill it in. My subjects is MFL, so I am aware that it may not be top of teacher and pupil priority for catch up, but the register enables me to see attendance for all subjects taught that day. The number of “absent” boxes is staggering, not just in my subject, but even in those subjects where you might have thought there would be greater interest in catch up tuition, such as English and maths. This is across both the primary and secondary sector. I can certainly understand any reluctance from the Treasury to fund a programme of catch up tuition which could end up with tutors sitting at computers, waiting to deliver lessons to pupils who just don’t turn up.
But this is where greater imagination is needed. And I would say that funding is needed for a reward and consequence programme. What? Let me explain. Let’s face it, we are asking pupils and students to give up their time to do extra work. Just at the moment when things are beginning to open up again and we are allowed to travel and meet up with people we haven’t seen for ages, we suddenly tell a group of young people that they should be sitting at computers doing catch up tuition. I cannot believe that Labour MP Peter Kyle was serious when he said on TV that young people were bursting to get into school. Bursting to use sports facilities is not the same as bursting to take advantage of catch up tuition.
So my suggestion would be that funding should be made available for a system of credits, which would be ammassed by students for attending the online tution programmes that their schools have decided are needed. These credits should be accepted by out of school organisations to fund activities such as outside school sport, music, drama, DofE, ATC etc. according to the wishes of students. As we all know, it is not just academic study that children have missed, but the opportunities for participation in a range of co curricular activity. Attend the tutition – get the credits.
However, I think there also has to be a consequence for students who are regularly absent from catch up tution without any valid reason. This is taxpayers’ money and taxpayers would rightly be concerned at tutors pocketing money waiting for students who simply don’t turn up for catch up tution, even with the incentive of rewards. Therefore I believe funding could be allocated to schools for the express purpose of requiring those students who do not engage with catch up study to repeat the year. Repeating the year is common practice in many countries. The EEF research which concluded it had little value was flawed, since it did not take into account its effect on the whole cohort of students, focussing entirely on the small numbers who did end up repeating the year. It needs to be made clear to both students and parents that repeating the year will be a consequence of non attendance.
In conclusion, I would say that additional funding is required, certainly. But the government is also right to insist that they get value for money for that funding. All the online tution offered won’t make the slightest difference if students don’t attend. So why not use extra funding for a “carrot and stick” approach to attendance, on the lines I have suggested?