Teachers are struggling to balance catch-up and exam prep for GCSE and A-level pupils, and other years may be missing out on specialist teaching, Ofsted research has found.
The watchdog has published a new report on education recovery, based on evidence from routine inspections of 43 primary schools, 48 secondary schools and 14 special schools between November 22 and January 28.
Focus group discussions were also held with Ofsted inspectors. However, Ofsted caveated that the data “cannot be assumed to be representative of the whole sector”. The report builds on Ofsted’s previous research, released in December.
Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said the inspectorate had “seen lots of really good work across early years, schools and further education this term”.
“Most providers are using effective catch-up strategies to spot gaps in children and learners’ knowledge and skills and help get them back to where they need to be. In many cases, those gaps have closed altogether.
“But elsewhere concerns remain, and it’s clear that the pandemic has created some lingering challenges.”
Here are nine interesting findings relating to schools.
1. Teachers struggle with exam prep and catch-up
There was a “strong but understandable focus” on assessing year 11 and 13 pupils, with some teachers also providing exam preparation.
However, exam prep and filling learning gaps at the same time proved a “challenge”.
Inspectors also warned that pupils could be “more weighed than fed”, and the focus on assessment “could mean learning suffers as a result”.
2. Non-exam years miss out on specialist teachers
Some schools prioritised exam year groups and ensured they had specialist teachers, leaving other groups to go without.
Staff absence forced some secondary schools to return to remote learning. In some cases, self-isolating teachers “continued to teach lessons from home to pupils in the classroom”.
Ofsted also said it had “commonly” seen SEND pupils taken out of foundation subjects for extra teaching in core subjects.
This “may be appropriate” in some cases, but leaders “need to be sure that their choices do not lead to unnecessary narrowing of the curriculum for these pupils”.
3. ‘Lack of clarity’ on Covid measures
The research found a “lack of clarity” over the continued implementation of Covid measures had “also been a challenge”, with “very different practice across schools and therefore very different experiences for pupils”.
Testing also meant leaders having to “take on more of a management role rather than a leadership role”. Inspectors “suggested that this has been detrimental to schools”.
Covid-related anxiety among parents also “continued to be a challenge”.
Anxiety was “thought to be higher among certain communities, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities”.
4. ‘Lack of tutors’ and concerns about quality
“Many schools” using the tuition partners arm of the National Tutoring Programme found there was a “lack of available tutors”, and some said there was “not enough evidence” about the quality of the tutoring.
Instead, leaders turned to the school-led route and trained their own staff as tutors, “internally or across academy trusts”.
However, using internal staff has “placed additional pressure on already strained school staff”.
5. Supply cover challenge as teachers work as tutors
With high staff absence, schools faced a “challenge” in sourcing supply teachers due to high demand and “because some supply teachers were working as tutors”.
Many schools therefore used their own staff to cover lessons, including leaders, teachers and higher-level teaching assistants. This “increased staff workloads”.
6. Staggered lunchtimes here to stay
Ofsted noted that in a few schools, staggered lunchtimes originally set up because of Covid were still in place.
These had a “positive effect on pupils’ behaviour because they limited the number of pupils in an area at one time, which helped to create a ‘calm atmosphere’”.
7. Schools report drop in EBacc entries
Ofsted said some schools had flagged how the pandemic had influenced pupils’ subject choices.
“A few schools” reported a drop in pupils choosing triple science, while others noted declines in EBacc subjects.
One leader “thought that the latter was due to pupils’ lower level of confidence in languages following lockdowns”.
8. Standardised testing misses learning gaps
Schools continued to assess pupils to identify learning gaps.
But where schools relied on standardised testing, specific gaps in learning “were not identified as effectively or as quickly as they were in schools that took a more granular approach”.
Some primary schools also focused narrowly on core subjects, meaning they “have not yet clearly identified gaps” in other subjects.
The pandemic also “appears to have amplified the impact of weak legacy assessment practices”, Ofsted concluded.
9. Children ‘not ready for school’
Ofsted has also published a briefing on the early years, warning more young children “may not be ready for school” because of Covid.
Providers told inspectors of “regression in children’s independence and self-care skills”, with more needing help blowing their nose and doing up their coats. Providers also reported delayed speech and language development.
One said children’s increased time on devices even left them using accents and voices heard on screens.
Ofsted noted two-year-olds had been surrounded by mask-wearing adults “their whole lives”.