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Lib Dems would spend £390m a year on tutoring

The Liberal Democrats would hand schools and colleges £390 million a year to offer free small-group tutoring to 1.75 million children struggling with their learning if they form the next government.

Munira Wilson, the party’s education spokesperson, will pledge “tutoring for the millions” at its annual conference in Bournemouth today.

The Liberal Democrats pointed to analysis showing that 15.8 per cent of pupils who meet or exceed the “expected standard” in reading and maths at key stage 2 do not go on to achieve a grade 4 or “standard pass” in GCSE English and maths.

Wilson will this afternoon accuse Rishi Sunak’s government of “pulling the plug” on school-based tutoring, and compare him to a Dickensian character.

Funding via the National Tutoring Programme does not extend beyond this year, with ministers hoping schools will continue to pay for it out of their own budgets.

Under the Lib Dems’ plan, pupils would receive “tailored support over 12 weeks in English, maths, science, or another academic subject”.

Schools and colleges would “select pupils who receive tutoring, prioritising children from low-income backgrounds, with low prior attainment or with additional needs”.

Schools could use their own teaching staff, recruit tutors themselves or “choose from quality-assured external providers”, the party said.

However, the Lib Dems have not said whether the £390 million a year it would give to schools and colleges would be new money from the Treasury, or how it would be raised.

A party spokesperson told Schools Week they would “be publishing a fully-costed manifesto as we always do when the election comes”.

‘Our own Dickensian nightmare’

Addressing the conference, Wilson will liken Sunak to Mr Bumble – the head of the workhouse in Oliver Trust – in “our own Dickensian nightmare”.

“As chancellor, time and again, he denied our children the investment they so desperately needed.

“When the pandemic hit, our children were forgotten. Despite the heroics of our teachers reinventing their lessons for online learning, tens of millions of hours were lost from school.”

She will point to catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins’s call for a £15 billion recovery programme, which was rejected by the government, which allocated less than £5 million.

She will also point to recent claims during the RAAC crisis that Sunak’s Treasury rejected calls for more school rebuilding cash.

“He simply doesn’t appreciate the value of education,” she will say.

Tutoring programme ‘beset with problems’

Wilson will warn the National Tutoring Programme has been “beset with problems, from incompetent outsourcing to shortages of tutors. Yet despite all that, it has had some success.

“Hundreds of thousands of students got extra support. Schools that focused on the poorest pupils boosted their maths and English grades. Parents said that their children became more confident.

“But yet again, just as we were seeing some progress, the Conservatives pulled the plug.”

The pledge was welcomed by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leader’s union, who said there was “strong evidence for small group tutoring as an effective intervention to support young people who need additional help”.

“ASCL has campaigned for more action to support the ‘forgotten third’ of young people who fall short of the gateway qualification of at least a grade 4 in GCSE English and maths at the age of 16.

“Targeted tutoring funded on a permanent basis would help to improve their educational outcomes and life chances.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said they “know the positive impact that tutoring can have, which is why we’ve made over £1 billion available through the National Tutoring Programme”

“We will continue to support schools to deliver tutoring into the future, including through the pupil premium which is rising to £2.9 billion this year – the highest cash terms rates since this funding began.”

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