20 January, 2023
On 13 December 2022, OFSTED published their annual report detailing the outcome of their inspections and regulation of education providers between September 2021 and August 2022. The report specifically considers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery.
Essentially, recovery in education following the pandemic is a 'work in progress.' Although there have been some improvements in schools, it is unclear what the 'lasting impact of lost education' will have on children in the future. Amanda Spielman (His Majesty's Chief Inspector) stated that,
"Across all age groups in education, careful thought has been given to making up lost learning. However, achievement gaps are still wider than before the pandemic, meaning the recovery is far from complete."
Staffing issues are a key concern for schools. It will be necessary to 'recruit, train and retain talented and capable people' to secure the future of children in education.
Education providers are experiencing difficulties in recruiting SEND staff which means that some children are not receiving adequate support.
Within the 'early years sector,' nurseries have been closed because of the lack of qualified and experienced staff. They are 'competing with, and losing out to, higher paid or more flexible employment.' Further issues have been raised in relation to safeguarding, as some nurseries are relying on apprentices to fill the gap in staff shortages.
Staff continue to experience COVID-related absences, which in turn creates high demand for supply teachers. This increases the workload for school staff as they are often used to cover teaching in school.
Early in the year, pupil absenteeism was also an issue due to COVID. Although the number of children absent from schools then fell over the year, some absenteeism is persistent, which is concerning and it was stressed that parents need to commit to their children having full attendance at school.
There were encouraging signs revealed in the OFSTED report in relation to the quality of education provided between September 2021 and August 2022. For example:
However, sixty-four percent of schools had not been inspected in the last five years, which is concerning. This was due, in part, to 'outstanding' schools being exempt from inspection between 2012 and 2020; this exemption has now been lifted.
Of particular concern, was the service provided to young people with SEND. It is alarming that a written statement of action was required for over half of SEND inspections and how much the demand for SEND services has grown since the pandemic;
'There are nearly 1.5 million pupils currently identified as having SEND, an increase of almost 77,000 in the year.'
Some services were not always available, such as mental health support. The Annual Report observes that children with mental health issues are not always receiving adequate support from external services as schools experience difficulties in accessing such services. There are also lengthy waiting lists when a child is referred.
Assessments in relation to education, health and care plans (EHCP) were noted to be significantly delayed.
"In 2021, only 60% of education, health and care plans were issued within the 20-week statutory limit, the same as in 2018 and 2019. There is substantial variation between local authorities. In 2021, 20 authorities issued less than a third of plans within the 20 weeks, but 80 authorities issued more than two thirds within the same timescale."
The return of enrichment activities after the pandemic has been prohibited to an extent, due to low staff numbers. This has impacted upon children's exposure to sports, drama and music activities.
It was noted too that the progress of children within the 'early years sector' has been significantly impacted by the COVID pandemic. Young children's speech and language and social development has been delayed due to spending 'most of their lives in a time of social distancing, mask-wearing and limited interaction.'
The Annual Report highlighted some gaps in regulating education providers. For example:
OFSTED also state that although they regulate individual institutions, nearly 4 in 10 schools are in multi-academy trusts (MATs); such trusts have 'a huge influence on how children are being educated,' therefore OFSTED would like to assess how MATS are influencing education.
The OFSTED Annual Report has highlighted a number of areas where educational improvements have been identified, however the overriding theme is how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge all education providers. OFSTED are keen to secure the future of children through improving the quality of their education, but further challenges now also emerge, not least strike action, staff shortages, the energy crisis and the rising cost of living.
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