Ofsted has identified six months’ learning loss in some pupils, a “wide variability” in numbers returning to school and “physical fatigue” among staff in its latest report from interim visits to schools this year.
The watchdog has published analysis based on 297 one-day visits carried out in November.
Here’s what they found.
1. Some pupils ‘six months behind’
Inspectors were told repeated absences due to Covid-19 outbreaks have resulted in pupils losing “even more learning”.
The report states some primary school leaders reported that their pupils were “well below” where they should be, and some quantified this “in terms of being six months”.
Not all leaders had the same view, however, with “a few” saying pupils came back “with less learning loss than they had expected”.
Secondary school leaders were “particularly concerned about their year 7 cohort and how they had fallen behind”.
It found in just over half of the schools visited, pupils in bubbles were sent home to self-isolate at some point during the term, with more children sent home in bubbles from secondary schools than primaries.
Additionally, some school leaders reported that a “significant proportion” of their pupils had to self-isolate on two or three separate occasions.
One school reported that on average absence “was around nine and a half days per pupil”.
2. ‘Wide variability’ in school return and attendance
The report found there was “wide variability in the extent to which pupils have returned to school and to which attendance is being affected by Covid-19”.
Leaders said many of their pupils returned “hungry to learn”, but many believe the learning lost over the first national lockdown was “extensive”.
“There is now a wide range in schools’ experiences of providing remote learning for pupils, depending on how often they have had to do this. Many schools view their approach as a work in progress and are adapting as they go along to improve their offer,” the report found.
Some schools reported that getting the results from Covid-19 tests “had become quicker”, which meant pupils who were self-isolating with symptoms but who had a negative test result “could return to school sooner than had previously been the case”.
3. Concerns over SEND pupils
Many secondary school leaders “talked about how challenging remote education can be for their pupils with SEND”.
Pupils with SEND “sometimes found it difficult to understand what was required of them or to work their way around an online system independently”, Ofsted found.
Some found that the “whole experience raised their anxiety levels”. Parents’ frustration and anxiety was “also an issue”.
4. Most primary leaders narrowed curriculum
Ofsted’s inspectors found that most primary school leaders “had restructured their timetables to prioritise English and mathematics, giving more teaching time to these subjects”.
The extra time was being used “to teach components that had not been taught during the first national lockdown and revisiting aspects that had not been well learned”.
A few schools had designed a catch-up curriculum for English or maths, which they were teaching “alongside their usual curriculum”.
“Very often, the time that was usually spent on foundation subjects had been reduced to create this extra time for English and mathematics,” Ofsted found.
The report found some pupils in both primary and secondary schools “were missing more curriculum time than others”.
Some primary school pupils “were missing time in foundation subjects as they were being withdrawn for additional intervention sessions to help them to catch up in English and mathematics”, for example.
5. Remote learning easier for bubbles than individuals
When whole bubbles were forced to isolate, inspectors found schools were generally making progress in the provision of remote education – often using live or pre-recorded online lessons.
However pupils forced to self-isolate often had a poorer experience.
“Often, the packs for individual self-isolating pupils contained no new curriculum content, but were designed for pupils to consolidate prior knowledge. In contrast, when a bubble was isolating, there would usually be some degree of alignment with the usual curriculum,” the report found.
In her accompanying commentary Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman also said schools were struggling to assess whether remote learning was effective or not.
“For many, the measure of success is whether or not children are engaging with the work at all, rather than whether they are developing their knowledge and understanding – a case of remote attendance, rather than remote learning,” she said.
The report also found that few schools “appeared to have systems in place to assess what pupils have learned from remote education”.
6. ‘Physical fatigue’ from bubbles for secondary teachers
As in previous reports, schools once again reported on the increased workload and pressures faced by staff, but the latest analysis revealed “new findings have emerged in relation to teachers’ well-being”.
“The bubble structure in secondary schools is causing physical fatigue for some teachers, as staff – along with their resources – move from classroom to classroom,” the report stated.
One school leader explained that a teacher teaching 43 lessons across a two-week timetable could “therefore move rooms 43 times”.
“There is no doubt that the constantly shifting guidance for schools, colleges, local authorities and other institutions has taken its toll on staff – alongside the uncertainty created by different permutations of tiers and lockdowns,” said Spielman.
The chief inspector said their teams were “physically fatigued and stressed” and that she was moved to record her “appreciation for everyone working in education and social care”.
7. Home education still on the rise due to parents’ fears
Almost three-fifths of schools reported that they had had “at least one pupil whose parents had removed them from school to electively home educate them since the start of the autumn term”.
Of these families, one-third had taken more than one of their children out of school.
“Leaders said that some parents have told them that they only want to home educate temporarily and want their children to return once ‘the pandemic is over’,” the report added.
A rise in home education has been a constant theme across the school watchdog’s ‘visits’ reports – with the first and second reporting respectively that over a third and around half of schools said this was taking place.
8. Fears over children overseas and GRT families
Ofsted found that some pupils “had not returned to school because they had gone to stay in another country”, and that some “who are clinically vulnerable and some Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils have not returned”.
While some schools have been “virtually unaffected”, others “have had repeated absences related to COVID-19, sometimes for large numbers of pupils and sometimes for the same pupils”.