The workforce crisis in schools is “compounding” barriers to education recovery, with children “bearing the brunt” of these issues, Ofsted has warned.
The watchdog’s annual report for 2021-22 warned of recruitment “frustrations” in schools, amid shortages of teaching assistants and Covid-related staff absences.
Staff are also now dealing with an energy crisis and cost of living pressures, making “life harder” and “testing the resilience” of schools. The watchdog said issues with the recruitment and retention of staff must be “urgently addressed”.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said while “careful thought” had been given to lost learning, achievement gaps are wider than before the pandemic, with recovery “far from complete”.
“It’s clear that in education – and in children’s social care – staffing issues are compounding problems standing in the way of a full recovery.
“It’s vital that education and social care providers are able to recruit, train and retain talented and capable people.”
It comes after official government figures showed just 59 per cent of the necessary secondary school teachers were recruited this year, in a sign that staffing woes will only get worse.
‘Children bearing the brunt of issues’
Ofsted’s report looks at the academic year from September 2021 to August this year.
The report highlights a number of issues that were either “created or exacerbated” by workforce and resourcing challenges.
They are “compounding problems left over from the pandemic,” the watchdog warned.
“Children are bearing the brunt of these issues, as staff shortages create problems that can affect their quality of education and care.”
The report warned that schools had reported “poor behaviour as children and learners slowly readjusted to classrooms, corridors and each other”.
“And after such an extended period of stop-start remote education, many children and learners had made less progress than usual.”
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the ASCL school leaders’ union, called Ofsted’s report “deeply worrying report”.
“The chief inspector highlights the major challenges faced by the education sector, many of which have become more acute as a result of the government’s inadequate response to the growing recruitment and retention crisis in our schools and colleges.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “We know the pandemic has impacted children’s learning and social care, and we are incredibly grateful for the resilience and hard work of teachers, head teachers, social workers and other staff.”
Schools ‘feel like their intakes are younger’
Spielman said schools at every stage had said over the past year that “it’s felt like receiving intakes a couple of years younger”.
“Children’s social development was to a considerable extent put on hold due to covid restrictions…at every level, children have been having to cope with normally age-appropriate behaviour expectations.
“That has of course knocked through into behaviour children finding it hard to comply with expectations.”
Staffing shortages have then “compounded the problem”.
In schools, Covid-related staff absences left gaps “not easily filled by the limited number of supply teachers”. Managing with fewer staff then “slowed the pace of intervention where children needed extra help”.
It also “delayed the return” of sports, drama, music and other programmes that are normally part of the school experience.
But Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said Ofsted “does not escape responsibility for the problems it describes”. She said the watchdog was a “major driver of unnecessary intensive and excessive workload”.
“The irony is that Ofsted is fuelling the very same staff turnover highlighted in their annual report and which is identified as making recovery after the pandemic harder than it would be with full staffing levels.”
Special schools have own challenges
Ofsted said staff turnover and absence were big challenges for leaders of special schools.
They found that recruiting staff with SEND expertise had been difficult for some schools, with turnover higher than pre-pandemic.
This had a “negative impact” on pupils, especially when new staff were not familiar with pupils’ needs or when certain provision required two staff – such as hydrotherapy.
The quality of education could be affected by the lack of non-specialist teachers, as lessons are covered by supply teachers or those without the expertise.
It’s all while the SEND system was put under “even greater strain during the pandemic” with significant growth in service demand.
Speech and language therapy and mental health support were “not always available”, and there were also delays in assessments for education, health and care plans.
Don’t ‘label’ kids in need of catch-up as having SEND
Spielman also warned against “labelling” children in need of catch-up support as having SEND, when it was “not right for them and also puts an unnecessary burden on the system”.
She claimed inspectors had seen that there are “children who would not normally have been identified as having special educational needs but who do need significant extra help, simply because they’ve missed sometimes as much as a full year’s worth of education in total”.
“So it’s really important that we think about catch-up without automatically assuming that there is an inherent problem in the child themselves.”