Schools prioritised “making food parcels” and “going out visiting” disadvantaged children over delivering remote learning during the first wave of the pandemic, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said.
Speaking at an event held by the Institute for Government think tank this morning, Amanda Spielman said that putting a “great deal of attention into the children with greatest difficulties” meant that some schools “didn’t have the capacity left” to ensure all pupils had access to education during the Covid crisis.
She added that it was “less obvious to some” in the early stages of the pandemic, when it “looked as though it might just be sort of three or four weeks“, that their focus should be on “assembling as a full remote education offering”.
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“It’s clear that there were enormous disparities in what schools offered, and many parents comparing what school A was offering and what school B was offering,” she said.
“There is an unevenness in resource, which I think we have to acknowledge – the average private school has three times as much money, so far more staff, far more technology to mobilise, to switch to teaching remotely.
“So I don’t think we should lose sight of that entirely. But that doesn’t explain the disparities that we saw in the state sector.”
She added: “Another thing I saw was that, in a lot of schools, it felt as though their attention went very rapidly to the most disadvantaged children, into sort of making food parcels, going out visiting.
“They put a great deal of attention into the children with greatest difficulties, which is admirable but, in some cases, that probably got prioritised...which may have meant that they didn’t have the capacity left to make sure that there was some kind of education offer for all children.
“And I think, in those first few weeks, when it looked as though it might just be sort of three or four weeks, it was less obvious to some that they really did need to start assembling as a full remote education offering.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, defended schools’ “vital work” with vulnerable children in their communities, arguing that they “went to incredible lengths in order to protect and care for pupils in the most unimaginably challenging of times”.
“From the very start of the crisis, staff looked after the most vulnerable pupils as the country went into lockdown; they effectively reimagined the very concept of ‘school’ as they worked to implement a remote learning offer,” he said.
“There is no doubt that this vital work helped to shield large numbers of children from the worst effects of the pandemic.
“The solutions offered by central government almost always arrived long after schools had worked things out for themselves. Schools learned much more quickly than policymakers about what worked and what pupils needed.”
There was “no obligation” for schools to follow government remote learning guidance during the first lockdown in spring 2020.
But this changed when the country shut down for a second time in the autumn. While schools remained open, they had a new legal duty to provide remote education to any pupil unable to attend lessons because of Covid.