Strong signs of recovery across education, but challenges remain

Reports reveal that a lot of progress has been made in the education sector to help children and learners recover the knowledge and skills they missed during the pandemic. However, amid strong signs of recovery, it is also clear that many education service providers continue to face challenges, some of which could have longer-term consequences.

The 4 reports, which follow those released in December, draw on evidence from approximately 280 inspections and multiple focus groups with inspectors to understand how early years, schools, continuing education and skills, and prison education providers are responding to current issues, and the approaches they are taking to help children and learners catch up.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said:

We’ve seen a lot of great work in the early years, schools and continuing education this term. Most providers use effective remedial strategies to identify gaps in children’s and learners’ knowledge and skills and help them get back to where they need to be. In many cases, these gaps closed completely. And we also saw promising improvements in children’s well-being and behaviour.

But elsewhere, concerns remain and it is clear that the pandemic has created lingering challenges. I am particularly concerned about the development of young children, which, if not taken into account, could potentially cause problems for primary schools.

First years

Today’s report reveals that the pandemic has continued to affect young children’s communication and language development, with many providers noticing delays in speech and language. Others said babies struggled to respond to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced social interaction during the pandemic.

The negative impact on children’s personal, social and emotional development also continued, with many lacking confidence in group activities.

The children’s social and friendship skills were affected. Some providers reported that toddlers and preschoolers needed more support for sharing and taking turns. To address this issue, staff provided as many opportunities as possible for children to mingle with others and build their confidence in social situations.

It continues to impact children’s physical development, including delays in babies learning to crawl and walk. Some providers reported that children had regressed in their autonomy and self-care skills. As a result, many have increased the time children spend in physical activities to develop gross motor skills.

A growing number of providers were concerned that, compared to before the pandemic, fewer children had learned to use the toilet independently. This means that more children may not be ready for school by age 4. Providers were also concerned about obesity and dental health, so they focused on providing well-balanced meals and increasing time spent in physical activity.

Many providers have reported difficulty retaining quality staff since the start of the pandemic. This left some short of qualified practitioners, which affected the quality of teaching and remedial strategies.

Some providers are concerned about their long-term sustainability given fluctuations in the number of children enrolled.

Schools

Today’s report reveals that the pandemic has continued to hamper students’ learning and personal development this year. Leaders still described gaps in students’ knowledge, particularly in math, phonics and writing endurance. However, compared to the previous term, more leaders said these gaps were closing.

Inspectors found that schools used effective strategies to check what students had learned and to adapt the curriculum to fill gaps in knowledge and skills. Some schools used regular assessment to identify what students remembered and allowed time to review concepts that were not learned well from a distance.

The impact of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of some students remained concerning. Leaders spoke of students having lower levels of resilience and confidence, and increased levels of anxiety. Many schools offered in-house support for these students as outside agencies often had long waiting times. This has been particularly difficult for special schools, which rely heavily on support from other agencies.

Some schools used the national tutoring scheme to help pupils who needed extra support, but most told Ofsted they preferred to train their own staff as tutors rather than using tuition partners, mainly due to the lack of available tutors. However, this put additional pressure on the school staff.

The absence of staff related to COVID-19 was a challenge for schools in the spring, which was exacerbated by difficulties in recruiting substitute teachers. This led to an increase in staff workload as schools used their own staff to cover lessons.

Continuing Education and Skills (FES)

Providers continued to respond to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic with creativity and resilience. New elements have been added to programs to reflect the impact of the pandemic on the employment landscape, and there has been increased collaboration across the sector to address learning gaps.

Sixth grade colleges noted that many learners had lower levels of knowledge and skills and were adapting their curriculum to help them progress.

Work placements remained hard to come by, particularly in the health and social care sectors, but providers were working to offer alternatives.

The disruption of GCSEs experienced by the most recent intake of learners has had negative effects on behaviors and attitudes. Providers reported that social skills and confidence decreased and more disruptive behaviors were observed.

Recruiting and retaining staff has been difficult for many providers. In some cases, this has had an impact on the quality of teaching and increased the workload of staff.

Mental health issues remained high. New learners who had enrolled in the school experienced higher levels of exam anxiety. Providers offered additional support to help learners improve their endurance and prepare for formal exams.

Many apprentices did not have the required level to take their final assessments, and a significant number remained on the programs beyond their scheduled end date.

prison education

The number of inmates participating in education, skills and work was increasing, albeit slowly. But prisoner attendance was still far below pre-pandemic levels. In some cases, no classroom activity had taken place since March 2020.

Many prison leaders had taken a cautious approach to reintroducing face-to-face classes. This has had a particularly negative impact on inmates who find it difficult to learn independently, for example those with low levels of literacy and numeracy, who speak English as an additional language, or who have learning needs. additional learning. In some cases, prison leaders provided individual support to these groups.

Pandemic restrictions have reduced the number of inmates who can participate in face-to-face education. The leaders therefore had to prioritize the prisoners to whom they offer these opportunities. Some leaders have prioritized those who are already well into distance learning, rather than prisoners most in need of support.

The few education, training and work activities that took place were generally of good quality. However, the support and resources available did not meet the needs of all learners.

Upon returning to class, staff in most prisons were assessing inmates to identify any gaps in learning due to COVID-19. However, this information was not always used to plan the curriculum in a way that would meet their needs and help them catch up on missed learning.

Support for detainees identified as having special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) remains insufficient.

An increased number of COVID-19 outbreaks resulted in staff absences at all levels, including managers, who had to turn to operational issues. This means that leadership activities, such as effective program planning and educational quality assurance, have been neglected.

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