Ofsted’s plans for 2020/21 academic year

27 Aug

I           Looking forwards

On 6 July 2020, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), Amanda Spielman, published the plans for Ofsted from September 2020, when all schools and academies are due to reopen for normal work.  She rued the enormous loss of lives because of the pandemic and remarked on the growing concern of its impact on the education of children.  The closure of institutions has had been detrimental to the education of millions of children and made many vulnerable youngsters invisible to the care services.

She praised teachers and headteachers for the tenacity they exhibited to work hard and sustain education during the lockdown. She also had warm words for the schools and academies that remained open for the vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

However, she remarked that it was a sad fact that children would have had unequal experiences in their homes.  “Not every child will have had a quiet place to work, a supportive adult on hand to help or access to technology.”  A number would have become demotivated and others find it hard to catch up.

Notwithstanding, she acknowledged that many children and school and academy staff were resilient and observed “that with clear guidance and careful planning, schools will get pupils where they need to be”.

Mrs Spielman is keen for Ofsted to develop insight into the current state of play and play its part “in the rebuilding of education”.  Accordingly, routine inspections will be suspended in the Autumn Term 2020 and resume only in January 2021.   Over the last four months of the current calendar year, Ofsted “will be carrying out ‘visits to schools, academies and colleges, not inspections”.  The aim is to help institutions “through collaborative conversations, without passing judgement”.  Institutions will not be graded during visits.  Rather, inspectors will listen to school/academy leaders to learn about their past and present experiences and future plans, with a view to providing “constructive challenge”.   Inspectors will “publish the outcomes of our discussions with leaders” in short letters so that parents could understand what steps were being taken “to help children back into full-time education”.

In September 2020, visits will be made only to schools and academies that “volunteer” to allow Ofsted in.  The full programme will begin in October 2020.

Regulatory work vis-à-vis children’s social care and the early years, meanwhile, has continued during the lockdown even though regular inspections were suspended, to ensure that standards were maintained and settings were safe, well-run and effective for all children who were in need.   In the autumn term, inspector visits will extend to a range of social care and early years settings to enable Ofsted to discharge its regulatory role.  These settings will include nurseries, childminders, and children’s homes.  The visits will not be graded.  However, if inspectors have concerns, Ofsted will use its enforcement powers.

II          Looking backwards

On 30 June 2020, Ofsted published its report on the state of our education.  It covered the period from 1 September 2019 to 31 March 2020. Its findings were based on 2,500 (circa) inspections and visits to schools and academies.   Ofsted’s report provided provisional data for inspections completed between 1 January 2020 and 31 March 2020 together with revised data for inspections completed between 1 September 2019 and 31 December 2020.

It judged that 67% of institutions were good and 19% outstanding.  Ten per cent of schools/academies required improvement and 4% were inadequate.  More primary schools and academies were good or outstanding (86%) than those in the secondary sector (76%).   This was up by 1% in the primary sector when compared to the previous year’s data.  Altogether, 98% of nursery schools were good or outstanding – no change from August 2019.  Ninety-one per cent of special schools and academies were good or outstanding, 1% down on a year ago and 85% of Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) compared to 83% a year ago.

Under a freedom of information (FoI) request, Schools Week asked Ofsted to provide statistics about the level of satisfaction of schools and academies to the new inspection model.  Ofsted did so on 24 July 2020.  Altogether, 54% of the 3,222 schools and academies inspected had responded to Ofsted’s survey (similar to that of previous years.)

The data showed that between September 2019 and March 2020 (just prior to the lockdown) 87% of respondents said that they either strongly agreed or agreed that their inspection reports reflected what it was like to be children at their schools/academies.  However, when one digs down, one discovers that all ‘outstanding’ schools and academies surveyed indicated that they were satisfied with how the inspection was carried out.  Only 59% of the ‘inadequate’ and 69% of the ‘required improvement’ ones were satisfied.  It must be borne in mind, also, that all ‘outstanding’ institutions responded to the survey whereas only 35% judged ‘inadequate’ and 44% that ‘required improvement’ had done so.

III        Negative impact of the lockdown

Ofsted has been concerned about the negative impact of the lockdown on children’s learning, justifiably so.  Research is bearing this out.

A study by the Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE), which advises government scientists, revealed the impact of lockdown on pupils’ attainment.

Professor Anna Vignoles of Cambridge University, who was on the research team said:  “Shutting down schools has impacted all children but the worst effects will be felt by those from lower socio-economic groups and with other vulnerabilities, such as a pre-existing mental health condition. Children from low income households, in particular, are more likely to lack the resources (space, equipment, home support) to engage fully with remote schooling… This has to be taken into account in how we come out of this pandemic.”

But the report, Balancing the risks of pupils returning to schools, recommended that a system should be put in place to provide regional decision-makers with local and timely data to monitor neighbourhood and school infection rates.  It added that schools and academies staying open should be the “default policy” of government.

IV        Learning from other countries’ experiences

Governors and headteachers of schools and academies have been nervy about the reopening of institutions because we still have so much to learn about how the virus works and find ways to prevent infection and cure infected people.  Accordingly, we can learn much from what has happened and is happening in other countries.   What we do know is that children rarely get ill.  However, if they are infected – without the infection being “visible”, they can pass it on to the staff at schools and academies.

Other countries’ experiences have been variable.  Some had to close their schools shortly after opening them because of outbreaks.   In others, there was no transmission from any child.  And some countries had infections but were unsure whether they were transmitted by children.  Of the 23 countries that reopened, researchers discovered that only in one country – Israel – children spread the virus.

In Switzerland, where schools have been opened since May 2020, only 0.3% of children were responsible for transmitting the virus. In Japan, researchers were unable to find any transmission following the reopening of schools.

In England, the government thrust is now that schools and academies should be open by September 2020 and stay open unless, perchance/perhaps there is another spike of Covid-19 in any area, in which case that area will swiftly be in lockdown.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson campaigned in mid-August 2020 (shortly before he went up to Scotland for his summer break) to have all schools and academies return at the start of the academic year 2020.  He stressed that the harm done to children’s education and their mental health by not attending was far more damaging that the low risk posed by the virus.

His campaign was underpinned by one of the largest studies in the world carried out for Public Health England (PHE) by  Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and a member of the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage).   The study, which focused on 100 institutions in the UK, when 20,000 (circa) teachers and pupils were tested and monitored, discovered that there was little transmission in schools and academies.

Viner warned that children had lost friendships, missed months of lessons, and would suffer long-term social, mental and academic problems if schools stayed closed. He added that if the test-and-trace system is still not effective enough to curb a new surge of the virus, the government must close pubs, clubs, some shops or any businesses “not essential to the future of society” — such as cinemas — to allow schools, “which are essential to our future”, to reopen. “It is absolutely essential for schools to reopen in September. The risks to children from Covid are very low and the risks of school closures we know are very serious,” he said.

“Britain as a nation should stand up and say: our children are essential. Reopening schools is essential. If we do not feel test-and-trace is fully in place by September, we need to look carefully at the level of R [rating the virus’s ability to spread] at that point and look at what trade-offs may be necessary. That is when I would be very clear that schools need to be open before pubs and clubs …….. It is about what is necessary for the future of society and what is not. Schools are necessary and I am afraid that pubs are not.”

V         A recovery plan

Vicky Ford, the Children’s Minister, welcomed the principles articulated by the children’s sector to focus on young people for rebuilding, when the pandemic is brought under control.  “Protecting vulnerable children is at the heart of the government response,” she said. She added that she welcomed the principles put forward by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), which was endorsed by other charities.

At the virtual, all-party meeting, children, young people and parents shared ideas and experiences of the lockdown with MPs, Peers and representatives from the children’s sector.   The message was sharp and simple: “It’s our future.”  Vicky Ford was supportive stating that policy makers “must hear children’s voices” when deciding to take the next steps on the path to recovery.

Meanwhile, children’s groups have come together to set out the overarching principles and action to be taken on the road to recovery.  Building on these principles, the Department for Education has devised an approach in six key areas.

(1)        Child poverty and social security

(2)        Mental health and wellbeing

(3)        Early Years

(4)        Supporting children in care and care leavers

(5)        Safeguarding and child protection

(6)        Returning to school

A summary of the above can be found here and recommendations found in these six papers are here.

Ofsted should take heart!

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