Chief inspector: Rounded education crucial to Covid recovery

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A “well-planned and well-implemented curriculum” and a rounded offer including sport and extra-curricular opportunities give us the best chance of helping children recover from Covid-19.

In her foreword to Ofsted’s 2020/21 annual report, chief inspector Amanda Spielman has urged schools not to focus purely on academic “catch-up”.

However, the report, published on Tuesday (December 7), sets out starkly the impact of the pandemic and successive lockdowns on children’s education and wellbeing during the last academic year. This includes much that we already know from various research in the last year. The report finds:

  • The loss of education, disrupted routine, and lack of activities led some children to develop physical and mental health problems. Loneliness, boredom and misery became endemic among the young.
  • Children with SEND had additional barriers to overcome as many were unable to access the support they rely on.
  • Vulnerable children, at risk of harm or neglect, disappeared from teachers’ line of sight, resulting in significantly lower levels of referrals to social care.
  • The development and progress of many of the youngest children were hampered with some even regressing in basic language and social skills.
  • Some children attending alternative provision became involved in criminal activity, including gang violence, and were at risk of child sexual exploitation.

However, while much of the focus of late has been on the lost learning of the Covid generation of children, Ms Spielman urges schools to deliver a rounded education for their pupils as we recover from the pandemic.

She writes: “Much has been said and written about the need for academic catch-up, and it is clear that, overall, children have fallen behind.

From our inspections, we’re beginning to see that schools that already had a well-planned and implemented curriculum have been best placed to assess and adjust their teaching to get children to where they need to be.

“But for children to really regain a sense of normality in their lives and their education, we should not focus solely on bridging gaps in learning. Schools must once again become places where children can enjoy a rounded experience: a rich and broad curriculum, sport and physical activity, and extra-curricular opportunities that broaden their horizons.”

The report itself states: “Our summer term inspections showed that having well-developed curriculum thinking served schools well during the return to school after lockdown, enabling them to flexibly address missed content. However, weaker schools struggled to make changes to their curriculum effectively. In these schools, some teachers did not successfully identify the knowledge that pupils needed to learn and did not pick up on pupils’ lack of understanding.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the report painted a “bleak” picture and called on the government to respond with more funding to support recovery work.

He said: “Unfortunately, the government’s response to this crisis has been wholly inadequate. Its recovery plan for education is not sufficiently resourced and is predicated largely on a series of routes for delivering one-to-one and small group tuition which are overly complicated and bureaucratic.

“It would be far simpler and more effective to provide the funding directly to schools and colleges to deliver support as needed. It is not too late to do this and we call upon ministers once again to provide a recovery plan of the scale and ambition required.”

Mr Barton also pointed out that Ofsted’s return to full inspections is hampering recovery efforts. Ofsted carried out very few graded inspections last year, but after a 12-month gap resumed full graded inspections, Section 8 visits to good and outstanding schools, and in-person monitoring inspections of schools graded requires improvement or inadequate in the summer term.

Mr Barton continued: “Ofsted itself must do more to recognise that inspections at this time are extremely problematic. We have asked the inspectorate to allow inspections to be deferred upon request to a later date, and while it has slightly softened its criteria for deferrals, it has not gone far enough in this respect.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, echoed the sentiment: In these phases of recovery from the pandemic and on-going concerns about Omicron, our schools certainly do not need an inspection regime which puts additional pressure on headteachers and school staff and refuses to acknowledge the ongoing impacts. The government should instruct Ofsted to pause its inspection programme.”

Ofsted’s report confirms that 86 per cent of England’s schools continue to be graded as “good” or “outstanding”, with 10 per cent considered “requires improvement” and three per cent “inadequate”. Broken down, 88 per cent of primary schools and 76 per cent of secondaries are “good” or “outstanding”.

Mr Barton added: “We would emphasise that disruption caused by the pandemic is far from being over and that the first step to recovery must be to establish continuity of learning.”

  • Ofsted: Annual Report 2020/21: Education, children’s services and skills, December 2021:

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