12 January 2021

Louisa Reeves, I CAN's Head of Impact and Evidence, reviews Ofsted's Covid-19 briefing on schools and early years settings

Leaders of the special schools visited had decided on their approach to remote learning depending on the needs of their pupils. While some were approaching this in a similar way to the mainstream schools, combining online delivery with textbooks and worksheets, others were taking a different approach for their pupils with the most complex needs. Leaders described how their teachers had made mathematics, story and phonics videos for parents to use with their children, had planned work that incorporated speech and language therapy programmes and had regular phone calls with parents to discuss pupils’ individual curriculum needs.

Some said that online activities were available through their websites, including those that pupils could access via a tablet. These leaders emphasised, though, the demands that remote learning of any kind places on families when pupils need continual adult support. As one leader commented: ‘We have to take into account what is realistic and what is useful'. (P7)

Primary school leaders most commonly identified that pupils had lost some of their knowledge and skills in reading. Some leaders commented that writing was also an issue for some pupils, including writing at length, spelling, grammar, presentation, punctuation and handwriting. Some leaders said that children had fallen behind in language and communication skills and others said pupils’ oral fluency had regressed. A few leaders felt that pupils who speak English as an additional language were struggling more than others with some of these aspects. Primary school leaders stated that many pupils had fallen behind in mathematics. Leaders in many schools were particularly concerned about forgotten and lost learning for pupils with SEND, especially in literacy. Some leaders said that pupils with SEND have ‘struggled’ and have ‘fallen further’ than those without SEND. (P10)

As reported in the first briefing, leaders of special schools found that some pupils’ communication and physical skills had regressed, particularly those with more complex needs. For example, leaders talked about pupils who had not been able to use their communication systems at home because families were not confident in using them. Others mentioned declines in physical development; for example, pupils not having been able to use standing frames at home because of a lack of space now being unable to stand. Not all multi-agency support has restarted. Leaders said that where occupational, speech and language or physiotherapists were not coming into school, this was very concerning because of the impact it has on the pupils. One leader, for example, explained the critical importance of physiotherapy: ‘For a lot of our young people, there is nothing more important than therapy; fundamentally, it’s about being comfortable and then being able to access learning’. (P10)

Leaders of Alternative Provision settings emphasised that their pupils often arrive already behind in their learning because of a previously disrupted education. Leaders expressed particular concern about how effective remote learning had been during the first national lockdown for younger pupils. Despite the provision of devices and different approaches to learning, they felt that pupils’ regression since they were last in school suggested that remote learning had not worked well for them. In particular, they thought that younger pupils’ phonics, verbal, reading and mathematical skills had been badly affected. Leaders were concerned that older pupils, many of whom were from areas with high levels of deprivation, had missed out on work experience and life skills courses. They feared that this, plus the lost academic learning, could have a serious impact on pupils who left in the summer, making them more likely to end up without any continuing education, training or employment. (P11)

In terms of social well-being, some younger pupils in primary schools were experiencing increased attachment to their parents or home as a result of being at home for so long. Some had also lost elements of independence, for example forgetting how to use a knife and fork. Leaders say that some pupils were struggling to interact with their peers due to prolonged isolation and need to relearn how to maintain friendships. This was further compounded by class or year-group bubble restrictions, which mean that pupils cannot socialise as they typically would. (P11 & 12)

Schools were using different approaches to assessment. Some were using approaches that would not provide information about specific gaps in pupils’ knowledge or learning losses, for example standardised tests, reading-age tests and cognition tests. Others were using more informal, routine ‘assessment for learning’ practices across the range of subjects. A few leaders reported that they had not received the assessment information from feeder primaries and that this meant that assessing the starting points for their Year 7 cohort was a priority for them. (P13)

Some leaders had decided that, for some pupils, including those with SEND, they needed to go beyond just modifying the curriculum and provide more help to enable them to catch up. Some had already introduced one-to-one or small-group tuition, using their own staff, sometimes before or after school. Others said that they intend to put such programmes in place but are in the process of appointing additional staff to do so. A few leaders said that these intervention sessions were being led by teachers, rather than teaching assistants as they would have been in the past. A small number of schools had extended their school day to give additional teaching time to all pupils. (P14)

As we reported in the first briefing, many schools have no definite plans yet for the catch-up premium. Where leaders had decided on how to use the funding, they were generally focusing on different ways to help individual pupils to catch-up with missed learning. In primary schools, the intervention work, or planned work, was often focused on reading, and sometimes also on mathematics and writing. Leaders usually intended to pay for additional staff to enable this work to happen. Some leaders said that these staff would be employed for this purpose, while others planned to use their own staff. One leader said that the latter option was better for them ‘because our staff know our kids’. (P16)

Covid-19 briefing on schools

Ofsted Early Years briefing Oct 2020

Many children have left early years settings since the first national restrictions and have not returned. Almost all providers said that the pandemic had significantly impacted the learning and development of children who had left and subsequently returned. They were particularly concerned about children’s personal, social and emotional development. (P1)

The majority of providers said their setting now gave more attention to the prime areas of learning. Many children needed more support to make friends and mix with others outside of their home. Often, providers were helping children to think about how they interact with others, including turn-taking, being kind and sitting and listening to each other. (P3)

Some providers said they needed to focus on language and communication because they had identified that children were now less likely to start a conversation or comment on things during play. A few providers said they were doing extra language work with children who speak English as an additional language as their use of English had fallen behind. One provider had started doing small-group work with these children at least once a day to help them catch up. Some providers said they were helping older children talk about their experiences during the first national lockdown and introducing new vocabulary. (P3)

As a result of these changes, providers have had to think about new ways of developing children’s skills. Some providers said they had to increase the amount of adult-led activity because of the limited number of activities on offer. In some cases, they felt that this had enabled their staff to spend more time engaging children in their learning. Some providers had used this opportunity to revisit things that children previously knew and could do to make sure previous learning was secure. For example, one provider said that adult-led learning gave their staff more time to explain things and have deeper conversations with children about what they are learning. (P4)

One in five providers thought that all their children had been impacted in a similar way. However, most were more concerned about the learning and development of the following groups of children:

 children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
 those who speak English as an additional language
 children living in poverty
 those whose parents were not engaging previously. (P5)

Providers recognised that many parents experienced pressures, making it difficult for them to do this. This prevented some children from developing their language and communication and their physical skills. For example, some children had become more sedentary and others had become more reserved and withdrawn. (P5)

Table 2: Responses to the question: 'overall, would you say that children’s learning and development has improved, fallen behind or stayed the same in the following areas?'

Some providers were not sure what impact the first national lockdown has had on all of the prime areas of learning. This may be because it was too early for them to assess when we spoke to them. EY providers were most concerned about the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on children’s personal, social and emotional development. This was most frequently cited when we asked providers to identify one area of learning that had declined the most. (P5)

Providers were asked to identify one area of learning that had improved over the period. A quarter of providers thought that no area had improved. However, around the same number thought that children’s communication and language had improved, and slightly fewer thought physical development had improved. Providers said that parents who were able to spend more time talking to and reading with their children had had a positive impact on children’s communication and language skills. (P6)

SEND - Many providers said that children with SEND had not received the additional support they needed from other professionals because many services had closed or were limiting face-to-face visits. Many providers were concerned about the long-term impact of this on children’s development and progress. Many children with SEND also missed the consistent routines and expectations that enabled them to progress. Some had struggled to engage with these routines at home and in some cases parents had told providers that they were finding their children’s behaviour more difficult to manage. Many providers reported increasing delays in accessing support for speech and language therapy. These were often for existing diagnoses but also for new referrals. Many providers said that they were concerned that children with SEND were not always continuing to receive support at home, which meant that some children’s speech and communication skills were declining. Some providers remained open for children with education health and care plans and continued to work with professionals over this period to refer children for SEND assessments. In some cases, local services had moved online, so children could receive an online diagnosis of SEND and access to occupational and speech therapies. (P7)

How early years providers plan to maintain high standards: The majority of providers stated they had observed positive benefits from some of the changes they had made during the pandemic and that they plan to keep some of the changes in the long term.

 Some providers also said that children have settled much better with a staggered start to the day and parents leaving them at the gate.
 Many providers said that reducing the amount of resources and options for children has meant that children are less likely to be overwhelmed.
 Providers that had grouped children into bubbles said that they planned to keep children, especially infants, in smaller groups because they felt the children benefited from this approach and that staff were able to engage with and get to know the children better.
 Many providers felt that their use of technology to communicate with parents had been successful and were keen to continue.
 The majority of providers were pleased with their enhanced cleaning routines and planned to continue them. (P7)

The pandemic has put many providers in a difficult financial position. Over half (58%) of the providers we spoke to had faced financial difficulties as a result of it. Almost half (48%) rated financial difficulties among the top three challenges that they had to face. (P8)

Staffing has also been an issue over this period, with many providers citing the supply of staff as a particular challenge. For example, many were managing the return of staff from furlough alongside some staff self-isolating. A few feared they may lose staff due to anxiety and not being able to maintain social distancing with this age group of children. Some said it was challenging to accommodate small group bubbles in the long term and they had less flexibility because staff were unable to swap bubbles, which made it hard to cover in an emergency or for things like toilet breaks. This also had an impact on managing arrangements for key visitors, such as apprentice assessors and health professionals. (P8)

Contrary to what might be expected, supply within the early years sector has remained broadly stable during this period. There has been a small increase in the total number of childcare providers registered with Ofsted between 31 March 2020 (75,068) and 31 August 2020 (75,336).2 Last year, numbers decreased over this same period. The number of registered childminders has fallen from 36,972 on 31 March to 36,631 at the end of August 2020. Nevertheless, this trend is generally consistent with the same period last year, when the total number of registered childminders also fell but at a faster rate. (P9)

Covid-19 briefing on early years




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