Ofsted has published its first snapshot of the pilot “visits” it ran in September. The report covers the findings of 121 pilot visits to schools that volunteered to take part.
Here’s what they found:
1. Remote learning ‘not aligned’ to curriculum
Ofsted explained how leaders reported that in some subjects their remote education was only aligned with their pre-existing curriculum “to some extent”. In others, it was not yet aligned.
While Ofsted said schools were using remote learning to educate pupils at home, the materials “were in many cases not fully aligned with the regular curriculum”, they concluded.
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “If we expect many children to find themselves at home in term time once or even more often this year, for possibly a fortnight at a time, they must not lose the progression that a strong, well-sequenced curriculum brings. Without that structure, remote education becomes more about filling time than about effective learning.”
Remote learning will be explored in more detail “during this term”, the inspectorate added.
Meanwhile some schools had reported safety concerns over the use of live lessons, “such as pupils being alone in a room while the lesson was taking place, and had chosen not to use live teaching because of these concerns”.
2. Primaries focus on reading, secondaries re-order curriculum
Ofsted said secondaries were “teaching most of the subjects they usually teach, though many have reordered topics within subjects, however some had suggested that pupils may need to drop an option”.
Where curriculum was reordered, this was to focus on “the most important building blocks for each subject. Others said they were prioritising what they thought could not be taught effectively through remote learning.”
Primary schools were giving “even more attention to reading than usual”, including phonics, as they “wanted to make sure that if there have been any losses in learning, particularly in reading, these are quickly put right”.
The schools said that they planned to return to their normal curriculum by the summer term 2021 but many said they thought they would be able to achieve this earlier”.
3. But pupils are struggling to concentrate
While pupils were adapting to schools’ covid rules, some were “finding it more difficult to concentrate on their learning than usual. Leaders felt that some were showing less resilience, for example becoming quickly upset if the work seemed difficult, or giving up more easily.”
Other concerns were shortened concentration spans, pupils being more subdued and physical health had deteriorated.
4. Testing failures are ‘real barrier’ to keeping schools open
School leaders were concerned about not being able to keep their schools open when staff had to self isolate to wait for coronavirus tests and test results.
The report stated: “Many leaders saw the lack of availability of COVID-19 testing in their area as a real barrier to getting – or staying – properly up and running again.
“Leaders of some small schools described how quickly their school might have to close if staff could not get tested when they needed to, though this fear was shared by schools of all sizes.”
Ofsted also picked up on confusion over national and local guidance, with some schools receiving conflicting information from different, or sometimes the same, agencies (something Schools Week first revealed a few weeks back).
“They said that this was very stressful for them and their leadership team, particularly last term but continuing into this term,” the report added.
Social media and the “spread of misinformation” was also a “continuing challenge for leaders”, something Spielman picked up in her commentary published alongside the report.
She said: “Like Japanese knotweed, myths have persistent roots – so a consolidation and simplification of government advice for schools would help bring clarity for teachers and parents alike as we head towards the winter.”
Concerns over safety also meant leaders were struggling how to work out including practical subjects such as PE, design and music.
5. Covid ‘anxiety’ leads to home education rise
Over a third of schools reported that some parents had removed their children to electively home educate them, or were about to do so, because of “their anxiety over Covid-19”.
Spielman added: “Some parents will have made a positive choice, after enjoying their summer experience at home, but many leaders believed parents were concerned about the safety of their children. We will watch this trend as our visits continue over the autumn.”
Schools Week also revealed last week how the number of pupils using the Oak National Academy had doubled to nearly 250,000.
6 Teachers recruited on fixed-term contracts because of online interviews
The report also touched on recruitment: it found schools had generally continued to recruit over the summer, with interviews done online.
However the “biggest concern expressed by leaders was not being able to see a prospective teacher teaching”.
“Occasionally, schools had recruited teachers on fixed-term contracts for this reason”, Ofsted found, although some schools said online interviews had “worked much better than they had anticipated”.
A small number of leaders “did not like the idea of interviewing virtually so had delayed the process until this term”.