What has Ofsted learned from their visits to schools during COVID?
During the autumn term, Ofsted carried out a series of ‘interim visits’ to schools. This is my summary of their 380 visits carried out between 29 September and 23 October 2020.
I’ve read over the 18-page report on ‘school visits’ during the pandemic to discover if: a) we can learn anything new b) Ofsted are value for money. I’ve keen to learn their views on recovery curriculum, mental health (of teachers and pupils), plus their expertise on remote learning.
- 380 visits between 29.09.20 – 23.10.2020
- One-day visits
- Not graded – hurrah!
Ofsted writes, “This report answers four broad questions based on evidence from the visits.”
- What is the current state of children’s school education?
- How have children been affected by schools’ closures to most children?
- How are schools planning to maintain standards in education through the pandemic?
- What are schools doing with their COVID-19 catch-up funding?
It’s a shame these were not tackled from March 2020. The overview is a good read, so let’s hope parents read it!
On page 3 there is one heartbreaking read.
“Some leaders spoke of their distress in having to tell some families that their children could not return because they did not have the medical support to cater for them in school.”
I certainly wouldn’t attribute any blame to the school.
Homeschooling and Curriculum
On homeschooling which was already on the rise, “Almost half the schools had had pupils whose parents had removed them from the school roll to electively home educate them since the start of the autumn term. Of these, three-fifths had had more than one child removed from the school.”
Fixed-term exclusions have also risen. No surprise that is has been difficult for schools to have “the usual layers of sanctions before exclusion, such as putting pupils who were disrupting learning into another lesson or into isolation.”
On subject teaching?
“Very few schools focusing on science.”
Primary? Phonics is a key focus.
Secondary? Practical subjects take a hit…
One key area for contention is Ofsted’s ability to evaluate remote learning. Some media outlets and MPs have continued to speculate that a) schools should offer ‘live lessons’ and b) quality of remote teaching should be inspected and graded.
Some schools reported that they were not using live lessons because of their concerns about safeguarding, and do not intend to.
Interestingly, “a few schools considered live video lessons important for children’s emotional and social health…”
- How many is a ‘few’?
- Why are sweeping statements never backed by data? Is it 3, or 300?
Professional Development, Budgets and Wellbeing
Good news for school CPD budgets, despite insufficient support!
“Online training cuts costs and travel time, which also results in more staff being able to attend…”
Teaching online effectively is a key focus for many schools, rather than how to use the software. I’ve summarised online learning research I’ve read over the last 6 months.
Staff wellbeing is a key priority. I predicted this well-before the pandemic. COVID has exacerbated the issue.
“For example, one leader commented that in four weeks £5,000 has been spent on additional staffing because of COVID 19.”
Last week I spoke with one headteacher who had 35 members of staff out of school self-isolating! The implications on teaching and learning are huge…
Pupils’ Mental Health
How have children been affected by the first national lockdown? In summary, we know disadvantaged pupils will be hardest hit, but it’s too early to tell or to zoom in on the specifics. However, pupils were happy to be back, even though there are many challenges to keep children safe.
“There was a general sense that they appreciate school and each other more.”
“A very small number of mainstream school leaders felt that a full return would be later than the summer term 2021” and that the challenges (page 15) for schools were to:
- Teach as normal but also plan teaching and learning in different ways, particularly when remote and face-to-face education happen in parallel
- Meticulously apply new safety procedures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading
- Support pupils who are not in school
- Cover for members of staff who are self-isolating.
As expected, “leaders described these pressures as unsustainable, overwhelming or unrealistic.” Credit to Ofsted for publishing this, but there was one crucial line which summed up the entire Ofsted-game for me:
“Leaders in some schools that are graded inadequate or requires improvement say that they have an added pressure of working on school improvement while balancing an increased workload.”
If you work in a challenging school, and it’s labelled ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, it could be the end of your career, so why put yourself under this pressure (during the best of times)?
As I always ask, rather than spend millions on £s on inspections, why aren’t Ofsted inspectors deployed to share their expertise with the profession, rather than produce reports parents don’t read?
It’s a useful read to get a sense of what’s going on. The full report: COVID-19 Briefing_On_Schools.