Pupils 6 months behind and teachers ‘physically fatigued’ – Ofsted’s final ‘visits’ analysis


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”.

Your thoughts

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  1. David Hough

    For item 7, it is clear that the government is not addressing people’s fears adequately. Children can carry the virus home to vulnerable family members and clearly the “all pupils must physically attend school” mantra is not going to hold much water.

    The other side of this is that many parents are discovering that their children are happier and less stressed learning at home and want to continue this. All we hear is concerns about the numbers choosing to home educate, nothing about addressing the reasons why this might be the case. You don’t fix problems by addressing symptoms, you should deal with the cause.

    • Penelope Cramphorn

      As a mother who successfully home educated my 4 children, I can confirm that being taught at home is far better than at school. I started teaching at home when my children were aged 11, 9, 6 and 5 because I could see they were being taught very bae and yet we were told that they were top of their classes. My 9 year old son was severely dislexic and this was not being addressed at his school. All 4 of them took GCSEs and A levels, which wasvery unfairly, extremely hard to sort out and they went on to universities, gaining first class degrees, and my dislexic son got a B. A. and a Masters in English Literature! I am so thankful I took the plunge and home schooled them. It meant less money coming in, as I obviously couldn’t work, which meant less holidays, less consumer goods – we didn’t have cable TV or Sky, and they didn’t have expensive presents like their friends, but now they have careers that their friends envy and are able to earn high salaries, and most of all have been able to get jobs that they love.

  2. Diana Timofte

    I think the cause is COVID. I don’t see what should or the government can do about the risk of spreading the illness in schools, more than they are now. It might be more helpful if you offered a suggestion rather than just saying that not enough is being done

  3. VBThompson

    And what is Ofsted doing about all this? Putting more pressure on everyone by resuming visits and inspections is hardly helpful or fair. But they have to justify their salaries lest someone realises they are irrelevant to the education system in this country.

  4. Dr Alexandra Juul

    I find the fact that teachers are physically exhausted because they may have to walk to different rooms during the week worrying. How unfit must these people be? There are an enormous amount of jobs which entail moving around constantly – and if teachers are so unfit that they can’t manage this, then they are very poor role models for their pupils. Teachers have far more holidays per year than other jobs, so maybe they should spend some of their leisure time in keeping fit.

  5. Alex kirby

    What David Hough says is so accurate. Everyone is struggling not only students and parents but teachers too who are under immense pressure to teach when the numbers of absences are so high. I think if a parent wants their child to stay at home and there are no concerns then maybe it’s an option. I think the schools in London SHOULD have closed a few days early because all the staff are exhausted and so are the kids.

  6. B. JAMES

    All of this could’ve been explained by school staff way back in August.
    Staff wellbeing is at an all time low. It is blatantly clear that not enough emphasis is being placed on supporting an emotional recovery, too much on an academic recovery. This is at the cost of the mental and physical health of staff.

  7. Marie Clare

    The government could help reduce the anxiety and stress in our secondary schools by giving school greater power to exclude students who have been unable to follow the new procedures in school (wearing masks, following one way systems, space, use of particular areas of school) We have, in school deliberate repeat offenders, we have tried to sanction and gain parental support but the knock on effect this ‘lack of control’ has on teaching staff and the other students is too much to endure long term.

  8. Mrs Gibbon

    My granddaughter has self isolated now on 3 occasions for 2 weeks at a time due to contact with a positive fellow pupil. She takes her GCSE in 2021. I do think the exams should be based on teacher assessment as not all pupils in the UK have had the same experience. Lests have a Leve playing field!

    • I fully agree with Mrs Gibson. My own daughter like many in year 11 were off from school from March 27th she returned in sept and has had 3 sessions at home (2 weeks at a time)

  9. Steve Harrison

    Most of these points are obvious. It underlines the waste of money thst is Ofsted. If those Ofsted inspectors were actually engaged in the learning of younsters at this time they would be making more of a contribution.
    It reminds me of time and motion surveys completed in war time. Instead of helping to organise evacuees they stand around giving out questionnaires.

  10. Interesting. Did anyone inspecting not notice the appalling working conditions we are having to work under? Way below legal minimum working temps. This is an additional stress which although cannot be mitigated is just not being acknowledged. We are all still working because we realise how important it is to keep kids in school but the working conditions for an average staff member are appalling and only going to get worse in the spring term. Teachers are heroes on the front line keeping everyone else’s children safe and in school.

  11. Janet king

    What will the powers that be do, when teachers are too ill to do their job. Who is looking out for the welfare of the teachers. They are someone’s wife, husband, father, mother, daughter, son, etc. They have loved ones, they are not robots. Who is exercising Duty of Care to these people?