Seven things we learned from Ofsted’s latest education recovery research

The watchdog found learning loss during Covid lockdowns made it more difficult to identify pupils with SEND

The watchdog found learning loss during Covid lockdowns made it more difficult to identify pupils with SEND

20 Jul 2022, 0:01

Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman

School closures and missed learning opportunities during the pandemic are making it more difficult for schools to identify pupils with SEND, Ofsted research has revealed.

The finding is part of the watchdog’s education recovery report for the summer term, based on evidence collected during routine inspections of 19 primary schools, 21 secondary schools and 23 special schools in England between April and May this year.

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 briefing forms the final instalment of Ofsted’s research into schools recovery from the pandemic.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said it was clear “education providers are responding to the ongoing challenges” of the pandemic “with creativity and resilience”.

But she added that it had “created some distinct problems, which are taking time to shift”.

Here are seven interesting findings relating to schools.

1. Learning loss makes it harder for schools to identify SEND pupils

Disruption to teaching caused by school closures during lockdowns is likely to have hindered SEND identification for some pupils, and some leaders are “seeking to refer” more pupils for assessments than they would have before the pandemic.

But this term, some school leaders “were still unpicking whether concerns were because pupils had SEND or whether their additional needs were a result of pandemic disruption”, including gaps in knowledge and delays in speech and language due to less social interaction.

Ofsted also noted that schools that did not accurately identify missed or “poorly secured” learning were “at risk” of incorrectly identifying whether a pupils’ additional needs were due to SEND or because they were behind as a result of the pandemic.

Leaders also said that persistent absences, which were more likely to affect pupils with SEND, were often related to Covid, including because of anxiety about the virus.

In special schools, parental anxiety about Covid was common when pupils had medical needs that could be exacerbated by contracting it.

2. Year 8 pupils still catching up on key stage 2 content

During the summer term, many leaders raised concerns about pupils in key stage 3, particularly those in year 7 and year 8 whose transition from primary to secondary school was disrupted by the pandemic.

Subject leaders found “more variation in pupils’ knowledge and skills”, while some were “still catching up on key stage 2 curriculum content” including in reading and maths.

Some pupils in those year groups also “often displayed less mature behaviour than pupils of this age might previously have done”.

Meanwhile, many pupils in year 11 missed out on work experience this summer, with some leaders explaining it had been difficult to set up “because employers were often reluctant to facilitate placements”.

Where schools could not secure external placements for pupils, alternative opportunities they provided included virtual interviews or work experience within the school or trust.

3. Exam stress among staff being ‘transmitted’ to pupils

With the return of external tests and exams, and with it league tables for secondary schools this year, inspectors “recognised exam stress and anxiety” among some staff.

Leaders in schools “more heavily affected by the pandemic” were worried that their schools’ results “would be affected more than those of other schools”.

In some instances, the anxiety felt by leaders and staff about exams “was transmitted to pupils”.

4. Schools use smaller rooms for exams due to increased anxiety

Year 11 and year 13 pupils taking exams this year last experienced a formal assessment five or more years ago, when they took key stage 2 tests. Some school leaders said exam anxiety “was higher” among pupils than before the pandemic.

Some pupils also said “they did not feel ready to sit exams” because they “did not feel confident in their knowledge and/or exam technique”.

This meant that in some schools, more pupils “needed smaller rooms for exams”, requiring extra planning by school leaders and additional staff to invigilate.

5. Pupils taking time off for rescheduled family holidays

Most school leaders said pupils’ attendance had improved following a peak in Covid cases in the spring term, with some leaders saying attendance was back to pre-pandemic levels.

But during the summer term, some leaders said pupils were absent because of rescheduled families that had been postponed during the pandemic. This was also the case during the autumn term.

6. More staff off sick with long Covid

Covid-related staff absences continued but had fallen since the spring term. Such absences were usually due to staff testing positive for Covid.

However, during the summer term, more leaders told Ofsted that they had staff members off sick with long-Covid symptoms.

7. Managing tech safeguarding concerns takes more time

School staff “recognised” that the pandemic had “increased workloads and created additional pressures for staff”.

But as well as catching up with lost learning opportunities and preparing pupils for exams, staff were spending more time “managing safeguarding concerns around pupils’ use of digital technology”.

Leaders believed this was because pupils used technology more during the pandemic.

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