The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2019/20 was published at the beginning of December 2020. The opening commentary focused on three aspects:
- Inspections under the education inspection framework
- Protecting vulnerable children
- The impact of the COVID -19 pandemic
Although each of these provides a valuable summary of Ofsted’s findings this article focuses primarily on the impact of Covid – 19 and the ongoing implications for schools.
According to the report, the 14 weeks of school which many pupils missed during the national lockdown equates to about 3% of a child’s time in school from YR to Y11.
During this period most, but not all, schools tried to continue teaching through a variety of remote learning including online lessons and work being sent home. But, even where high quality remote provision was in place, children spent significantly less time on schoolwork than they would have done had they been in school.
Research suggests that, on average, children spent around 13 hours a week on school work although another study suggests that it was nearer 5 hours. The report states that:
Many children lost not just a term’s education, but also the consolidation of what they were taught in previous years. While we do not yet have reliable evidence on ‘learning loss’ from the pandemic, it is likely that losses have been significant and will be reflected in widening attainment gaps.
It goes on to say that the lack of access to school affected children to very different extents. It has been well publicised that the pupils who have been most affected by the closure of schools are the disadvantaged and pupils with SEND. However, the report also identified other factors which had a significant impact on learning. These include the support provided by the school, parents’ availability to support their children and the motivation of pupils to engage with their schoolwork. It concludes that, even where remote learning was put in place it can be, and is sometimes, delivered ineffectively.
Implications for schools
Teachers need to be aware of the many factors, identified above, which have contributed to gaps in learning. They will need to adopt a flexible approach to responding to learners’ needs, recognising that some pupils will have focused on the subjects they are motivated by and neglected others. Anecdotal evidence from local teachers informs us that many pupils did very little writing during lockdown, resulting in a loss of stamina for writing and a regression in other writing skills. We cannot make assumptions about which pupils have or have not engaged in learning but need to identify gaps for individuals, groups and cohorts.
The identification of gaps in learning needs to be an ongoing process, it is not something which can be achieved through a single assessment. New gaps will be revealed as there is a shift in learning from one topic to another, meaning that every new topic needs to start with consolidation of related learning to date along with an assessment of what learners do and don’t know.
The need to consolidate and build on previous learning requires an even greater focus this year. Even in an ‘ordinary’ year teachers need to be aware of what pupils should know when they reach their year group in order for them to make links and build on current knowledge. In some schools this is fairly well established – in others teachers focus on what they need to teach in their year group losing sight of the big picture of the knowledge and skills we need to teach. For example Y6 teachers often report that they are faced with revisiting terminology around word classes from KS1 because this has not been consistently reinforced through every day classroom practice. Such occurrences are likely to be even more evident this year.
Past articles from Juniper Express have made reference to the Education Endowment Foundation’s The EEF Guide to Supporting School Planning: A Tiered Approach to 2020-21 which provides excellent advice to schools on closing the current attainment gap. Its tiered approach focuses on teaching, those in need of further academic support and wider strategies such as attendance and communication. The need for all pupils to have high quality first teaching is once again highlighted. Identifying where there is weaker teaching in our schools and seeking to address that must remain a high priority if we are to close gaps in learning.
We will, I am sure, look back on 2020 as a year like no other. We have to accept the fact education has been severely disrupted. As educators we now need to do all we can to help pupils make up for the time they have missed.
However, as I write this we are now entering another national lockdown with schools closed until at least February half term. Dedicated teachers and leaders across the country will be doing all they can to ensure that pupils still have access to a high quality education. On pupils’ return to school the cycle will need to start once again – identify the gaps and start to address them in the ways suggested above. We wish you well in your endeavours and are here to support you in any way we can.