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Heads bemused over DfE cash clawback

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Bemused heads who say they’ve used all their tutoring cash have demanded answers, after being told they could end up having money clawed back.

It comes as some tutoring providers warn they are having to fundraise so they can afford to give cash-strapped schools a discount just to keep them providing catch-up under the National Tutoring Programme.

Schools started to receive letters from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) this week confirming whether any of the ring-fenced, school-led tutoring grant would be recovered.

Schools had to fill in a year-end statement detailing their total spending and completed tutoring hours. Any unspent cash will be clawed back by the Treasury. Initial estimates suggested this could be more than £100 million, former schools minister Jonathan Gullis said.

But, some headteachers who say they spent all their tutoring allocation are now being told they will have money clawed back.

Nigel Atwood, headteacher at Bellfield Junior School in Birmingham, said he knew of 20 heads querying their ESFA quotes.

Atwood employed a retired teacher as a full-time tutor with the 75 per cent government subsidy, which he then topped up with the 25 per cent required contribution from schools.

He said the school had also met its tutoring hours allocation. But he’s been told that £2,929 will be taken back. Funding will be offset from their budget next year.

“I’ve been talking to other heads to make sure it wasn’t just us, it seems that it’s very confusing, it’s not clear why they are claiming it back. Some haven’t used all their funding, but for many that have used all their allocation – it doesn’t make sense.”

Heads ‘furious’ over tutoring clawback

The ESFA told schools its clawback calculations are based on two points. Officials used schools’ submissions to work out the average hourly cost of tutoring per pupil. This is capped at £18 per hour, per pupil.

Schools were told their requirement to fund 25 per cent of the costs were also considered.

But the letter does add: “This means you may have spent more than your allocation, but we still need to recover some funding from you.”

John Draper, head teacher at Swaythling Primary School in Southampton, said he was “furious” at being told they will have £2,480 taken back, despite employing a tutor and paying them the full amount.

“We’ve just about set a balanced budget and got the governors to agree last week to about a £1,600 surplus. But we’ve had a £2,500 clawback so that pushes us into deficit budget.”

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, urged heads who believe the sums are wrong “to contact the DfE immediately”.

“We would expect honest mistakes to be put right quickly, with the minimum of fuss. No school should be penalized for attempting to do the right thing for those children that were hit hardest by Covid disruption.”

A DfE spokesperson said they were “clear from the outset that any funding not used for school-led tutoring or used incorrectly will be recovered”.

“We are supporting schools with this process and have provided clear information on how schools that have concerns can contact the DfE.”

‘Completely unaffordable’

Schools minister Nick Gibb has been urged by tuition partners on the NTP to increase the subsidy for next year.

Schools must pay 40 per cent of tutoring costs this year, which will rise to 75 per cent next year. The organizations warn this is “highly likely to be completely unaffordable for schools”.

Gibb has also snubbed calls from the ASCL union to drop the requirement for schools to top-up funding entirely.

Turning to charity

Charity tutoring providers are now offering discounts on top of the government subsidy just to keep schools using the scheme. Others are fundraising so they can afford discounts.

One organization leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said “several TPs, particularly charities, have reported supporting some of their partner schools who are really struggling with further discounts on top of the NTP subsidy”.

This was to “ensure that those pupils who really need the support, especially those eligible for pupil premium, can access it”.

Another said they have always done extra discounts, but “this year more schools than ever are asking for help”.

“Next year, unless NTP discounts or school budgets are far bigger than currently planned, it will be totally unsustainable.”

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