Improving learner outcomes

Playing catch up – a school leaders guide to the COVID-19 catch-up premium

Maria Buttuller

Author Maria Buttuller

Date 28th Jan 2021


As the daily disruption from COVID-19 continues, parental pressure is mounting on schools, school leaders, and advisory services to provide the most effective support for disadvantaged children and young people with SEND within limited budgets. 

In response, the government announced a £650 million catch-up premium to schools during what has been a very challenging time of lost teaching and funding shortages. 

Educators are now facing a rise in the demand for support for vulnerable / disadvantaged children without having the knowledge and skills required to support them. Dr Helen Curran, Senior Lecturer in Education: SEN at Bath Spa University, confirmed in a recent article that: 

 “The global pandemic has exposed the existing crisis in SEND, and amplified challenges that SENCOs already faced, such as a lack of time to execute the role.
‘As we get to grips with a third lockdown and return to remote learning, there is a real risk that children with SEND will continue to be disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, unless teachers, SENCOs and pupils are given additional support in areas like providing appropriate and differentiated virtual learning.’

Schools are being very creative in adapting teaching methods to suport pupils at home. The new catch-up premium could provide a great opportunity to invest in teaching staff and ensure they have the skills they need to support pupils with SEND.

About the premium 

The funding aims to support pupils to catch up with lost learning so schools can meet the curriculum expectations for the next academic year. This can take the form of: 

  • A one-off universal payment of £650 million for the catch-up premium, supposedly in the 2020/21 academic year,  to ensure that schools have all the support they need to help all students
  • A £350 million National Tutoring Programme (NTP) to assist and support those children and young people who need the most help. This includes:
  • An oral language intervention for reception aged children
  • A 16 to 19 tuition fund – one-off funding of £96 million for the 2020/21 academic year for schools, colleges and other providers, to relieve the disruption to education from the coronavirus (COVID-19)

Who’s eligible? 

This universal catch-up premium funding is available for: 

  • Primary, middle, secondary and all local authority-maintained schools, academies and free schools
  • Local authority-maintained special schools
  • Special academies and free schools
  • Special schools not maintained by a local authority
  • Independent special schools - local authorities will receive funding for pupils with education, health and care (EHC) plans, based on the number of such pupils in the area 
  • Pupil referral units (PRUs)
  • Alternative provision (AP) academies and free schools
  • Local authority-maintained hospital schools and academies

How is funding allocated? 

Funding allocations will be calculated on a per pupil basis. Mainstream school will get £80 per student from reception to year 11. Special, AP and hospital schools will get £240 per student for the 2020/21 academic year.

The government has also taken into consideration the weighting to specialist settings, therefore schools with a specialist setting will receive a higher per pupil pay-out than those who do not. A typical primary school of 200 pupils will receive £16,000 while a typical secondary school of 1,000 pupils will receive £80,000.

Schools will have to pay to use the NTP, however 75% of the cost is subsidised by the government. This allows the school to purchase tutoring for four students for the price of one. For example, 15 slots of tutoring for a single student is £200, and the cost for schools would be reduced to £50 per student.

The Government advises that this funding should be managed as a whole, rather than on a per pupil basis, as some students might require more or less than others. It is up to the school to decide how this funding is allocated in regard to the NTP and the need of their students. 

How to spend the funding 

Schools are expected to use this funding for specific activities that will help pupils catch up on missed education, with an emphasis on helping the most disadvantaged pupils. Schools should:

  • first identify which pupils need to access the support
  • use the sum available to them as a single total to prioritise support, even though they'll receive funding on a per pupil basis. There are no specific requirements for who to spend it on, but pupils that will benefit most from the funding should be identified

The activities that you'll provide. The DfE recommends the following: 

  • Small group or 1 to 1 tuition (particularly through the National Tutoring Programme)
  • Extra teaching capacity or summer programmes

Extra teaching capacity and the use of TA’s

Remember, you're able to spend the funding in the most effective way for your pupils, including extra teaching capacity for those children with the largest need, e.g. SEND.

Teaching assistants can also provide much-needed support to children and young people affected by the pandemic. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has guidance on catch-up approaches you could choose.

Will funding be monitored? 

You'll be held to account for how you use the catch-up premium funding in 2 ways, including: 

  • Governor and trustee oversight – where your governors or trustees will scrutinise your plans for, and use of, catch-up funding 
  • Ofsted visits – from summer 2021 at the earliest (exact timing under review), Ofsted plans to resume routine inspections. As part of the quality of education judgement they'll look at how you're using your catch-up funding to make sure the curriculum has a positive impact on all pupils 

Thinking creatively about the future

Thinking creatively about how to continue to provide education through the use of technology has provided much-needed continuity in schooling. This creativity now needs to be applied to developing teacher competency to deal with the rise in CYP affected by COVID-19, social distancing etc. Perhaps the catch-up grant could be used for CPD for teaching assistants to develop their knowledge of SEND, and equip them with the skills to provide the most effective support. 

You can find out more on how to report on spending of the catch-up premium on the DfE website. You can also find out about how to assess its impact on the attainment of your pupils by visiting the DfE's school website guidance for maintained schools and academies. 


This article is based on:

Department for Education's (DfE's) guidance on the coronavirus (COVID-19) catch-up premium.

Children and young people - GOV.UK (


Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020: Wave 1 follow up to the 2017 survey - NHS Digital






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