Ofsted publishes new briefings on the continued impact of the pandemic on education service providers

Ofsted today published the third in a series of briefing notes looking at the continued impact of the pandemic on education service providers.

The 3 reports, which follow those released in April, find that most education service providers are adjusting to life with COVID-19 and focusing on the effectiveness of their recovery strategies. But the legacy of the pandemic and repeated lockdowns continues to affect the education and development of some children and learners.

Drawing on evidence from more than 100 inspections carried out during the summer term and several focus groups with inspectors, the reports outline how early years settings, schools and education providers and continuing education helps children and learners catch up, while coping with the current situation. COVID challenges.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said:

It is clear that education service providers are responding to the ongoing challenges of COVID with creativity and resilience. But the pandemic and lockdowns have created distinct issues, which are slow to move. Some young children are still behind in their development; older children are experiencing higher than usual levels of exam-related anxiety, and staff recruitment and retention challenges have been exacerbated at all stages of education.

I am also concerned that some learners from a small minority of continuing education and skills providers are still not receiving enough classroom instruction or off-the-job training. This reduces their opportunities to learn practical skills and limits their social engagement, which could have serious consequences on their preparation for work.”

First years

Read ‘Resumption of Early Childhood Education: Summer 2022’.

Communication and language development in young children continue to be affected. A growing number of children have been referred for additional support but have to wait months, sometimes up to a year, for specialist help such as speech therapy.

Many children still lack confidence in social settings. Some have taken longer to settle into a crèche or with a nanny than would have been expected before the pandemic.

During the pandemic, children missed going to playgrounds and soft play areas. As a result, some have not developed the gross motor skills they need. To help children catch up, many providers have thought about how they can use outdoor space and encourage more physical activity.

Fewer children are ready for reception than would have been expected pre-COVID. Some are still not where they should be in terms of developing independent self-care skills, such as using the toilet and getting dressed. And because some providers have focused on preparing children for reception, younger children may have missed their own learning and development opportunities.

Providers also told inspectors that occupancy of funded places for 2-year-olds remains below normal. And they said financial pressures and staffing constraints mean they aren’t actively promoting the venues.

Recruitment and retention of staff is a persistent problem for the early childhood sector. Many providers continue to report difficulties in recruiting quality staff due to the relatively low remuneration offered by the sector. In a few cases, providers had to hire unqualified staff to meet the legal requirement for the number of staff per child per facility.

Although COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted since February, most vendors have maintained some restrictions as they don’t want to risk staff illness. Parents continue to drop off and collect at the door, with some telling inspectors they were unaware they could request entry to the supplier’s premises. These restrictions potentially create barriers between parents and staff.


Read ‘Resumption of education in schools: summer 2022’.

Schools continue to work hard to help students catch up. However, some students are still not as ready for the next stage of their education as they usually would be, especially the reception children who had limited preschool experience.

Inspectors also found that the pandemic had a disproportionate effect on some students with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). Schools with strong systems in place before COVID-19 continue to meet student needs SEND. But the pandemic has delayed the care of some students by external or specialized services.

School staff noticed higher levels of anxiety around exams than in pre-pandemic times, as students prepared to take external tests for the first time in over 2 years. While inspectors found that good practice in schools balanced helping students to review their knowledge with preparing them for exams, in some schools the curriculum was too small to focus on exam topics, which may affect students’ preparation for the next stage.

More schools use tutoring programs than in the spring and fall terms, with most opting for the school-led route. Some schools use the national tutoring program to fund their own staff to act as tutors, rather than employing external tutors.

In the summer term, school leaders said fewer students were absent from school due to COVID-19 compared to the spring term. Although some leaders have seen an increase in student absences due to families taking postponed vacations.

Continuing Education and Skills (FES)

Read ‘Education Resumption in Continuing Education and Skills Providers: Summer 2022’.

Providers continued to use creative strategies to meet the challenges of the pandemic and fill gaps in learners’ practical skills and theoretical knowledge.

A small number of providers have retained or returned to remote learning. In some industries, and for adults studying for professional qualifications, e-learning can have a useful and flexible role to play. However, for young learners and those taking vocational courses, distance learning reduces opportunities to acquire and practice skills. For example, it is very difficult to teach masonry or carpentry from a distance.

By learning remotely, some learners are also missing out on valuable socialization and opportunities to develop work-enabling behaviors and attitudes. This limited interaction with peers and staff can negatively impact learners’ experiences and outcomes and leave them unprepared for next steps.

Challenges remain for apprentices. While difficulties in accessing employment and training are easing, the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic continue to be affected, such as health and social care. Some apprentices are not performing meaningful tasks or are observing rather than gaining hands-on experience, while the pressures on businesses in the wake of the pandemic mean others are not released for training in outside of work. The learning disruption also saw many apprentices stay in their programs beyond the scheduled end, as they were not ready for assessment.

The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges in recruiting and retaining high quality staff. This is largely because the salaries are incomparable to those in industry, especially in sectors like construction and engineering. In some cases, the pandemic has prompted staff to reconsider their careers.

It was noted that the level of exam anxiety was higher than before the pandemic, especially among learners taking high-stakes assessments for the first time.

Some providers have compressed English and math schedules to give learners more time to catch up on job skills. This does not leave enough time for learners to progress well in English and math. And due to commercial pressures, some employers have decided to recruit only apprentices who already hold the required qualifications in English and mathematics.

The number of adult learners was already declining before the pandemic, but this decline has accelerated. In some cases, classes have closed. Elsewhere however, some providers reported increased interest in employability courses as adult learners sought to retrain or change jobs.

Many high-needs learners have received program extensions to help them participate in activities they missed during the height of the pandemic. Personal development was slow to recover and some learners experienced increased mental health issues or regression in social skills.

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