A report from Ofsted today sets out a range of challenges facing schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The inspectorate has been carrying out visits to schools this term to check on how pupils are being supported in their return to full-time education after the first national lockdown.
In its latest report, it looks at how schools have responded to Covid and the learning gaps it has caused.
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Here are five key findings from Ofsted’s report, which indicate how teaching has become harder during the pandemic:
1. Repeated isolation has ‘chipped away at pupil progress’
Ofsted has found that teachers’ efforts to help progress since returning in September are being set back by pupils having to repeatedly isolate and stay off school.
And the watchdog has warned of widespread disruption among the schools it visited last month. Just over half of the schools visited in November had had to send some bubbles home to self-isolate at some point during this term.
The Ofsted report adds: “In some cases, schools were affected extensively by Covid-19 related absence. For example, in one, leaders told us that 588 pupils from 620 – almost 95 per cent – had had at least one Covid-19 related absence. These leaders said that, on average, the absence was around nine and a half days per pupil.”
2. Learning loss from first national lockdown was ‘extensive’
The inspectorate said that although, “by and large”, pupils have returned to school “hungry to learn”, the impact of the first lockdown is now being seen in classrooms.
Ofsted said many leaders believe the learning lost over the first national lockdown was “extensive”.
The report adds: “Leaders talked about pupils being ‘well below’ where they should be; some others quantified this in terms of being six months.
However, it adds: “Not all leaders had the same view. A few said that pupils had come back with less learning loss than they had expected. As one put it, ‘It just wasn’t the tsunami of despair we were expecting’.”
3. Schools are having to rethink curriculum to help pupils catch up
Covid-19 and the impact of the first lockdown has led to some schools having to rethink their curriculum offer.
Ofsted has found that a few schools had designed “a catch-up curriculum” for maths or English, which they were teaching alongside their usual curriculum.
And the inspectorate found that, in some cases, schools were still discovering learning gaps.
The report adds: “Some leaders said that, as new content was taught, new gaps in pupils’ prior knowledge were emerging, meaning that teachers were still getting to grips with the complete picture.”
It also said some schools had created online quizzes as a way of identifying learning gaps.
4. Remote teaching of small numbers of self-isolating pupils is harder than entire bubbles
Ofsted found many schools were making real progress with remote provision for bubbles, which often included live or pre-recorded online lessons.
However, it said that pupils who were self-isolating individually for a fortnight at a time often had a poorer experience.
The report adds: “Whole bubbles can more easily be kept up to speed with the planned curriculum while they work from home, but isolating individuals often miss out on the new content being taught to peers in class, instead doing revision at home. For these children, the loss of learning they experienced in the summer is being repeated.”
5. Ever-changing Covid guidance is taking its toll on teachers
In a commentary published today alongside Ofsted’s new report, chief inspector Amanda Spielman said that changing guidance and extra responsibilities created by Covid-19 are adding to the toll on school staff.
She said: “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.
"Leaders described teams that were physically fatigued and stressed. They were often dealing with children and learners who had their own anxieties that needed to be addressed, and they were taking on the additional burdens of managing Covid cases and isolation procedures in their setting.”