London school uses extra cash for poorer children to pay for private tuition

Eleanor Busby

A London school is using the extra cash they receive for poorer children to pay for private tuition.

The Urswick School in east London is buying extra lessons for GCSE students with £10,000 of its pupil premium money – additional funding given to schools for educating disadvantaged pupils.

Naomi Dews, the school’s assistant head, told the BBC the decision was taken to ensure its students were not “penalised” by their backgrounds, adding that almost none of her pupils’ families can afford a tutor.

But the National Education Union (NEU) says schools should not have to resort to using their pupil premium budget, based on the number of pupils on free school meals, to buy in tutoring.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, argues that schools should have enough of their own teachers and funding to ensure one-to-one support does not have to be outsourced.

It comes as research found that pupils in London are more likely to say they have had a private tutor than any other part of England – with 41 per cent admitting to seeking tuition.

In The Urswick School in Hackney, around three in four pupils are eligible for pupil premium and cannot afford tuition. “Why should they be penalised by where they’re born?” Ms Dews said.

The school has decided to use £10,000 per year of its pupil premium fund to pay for individual tuition for 35 students taking or retaking GCSE maths.

The one hour per week tuition is delivered in the school day through an online connection to tutors from MyTutor firm.

Ms Dews added that there is not a spare maths teacher in the school to cover the extra tuition and she said hiring a new one would be difficult as they are in short supply.

The decision is a reflection of school funding problems and teacher shortages, the NEU says.

Mr Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “The idea of doing this would not even occur to schools if they were able to recruit and retain enough maths teachers.

“What is needed is for all schools to have the funding and the staff necessary to ensure every child gets the education they deserve.”

It is up to individual schools how to use their pupil premium funding – but it is often used to provide disadvantaged pupils with extra mentoring from teachers in the school.

Social mobility charity the Sutton Trust has called on private tuition firms to provide free lessons for poorer pupils after it found more than a third of affluent children have been given extra help, compared to a fifth of their poorer peers.

James Grant, co-founder and managing director at MyTutor, said: “One-to-one tuition has been proven to raise grades, but this is only a small piece of the puzzle.

“Too often, the most disadvantaged students do not receive the additional support that they need to access all the opportunities that are available to them – whether this is going on to university, or taking up a great apprenticeship.”

He added that the tuition can help these pupils improve their grades and make the prospect of university more appealing.

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Private tuition firms should provide ‘free lessons for poorer pupils’