Children’s recovery from Covid pandemic hampered by education workforce crisis, Ofsted warns


Children’s recovery from the pandemic is being thwarted by a recruitment crisis in schools, colleges and nurseries, with staff relying on apprentices and agency workers to plug gaping holes in the workforce, Ofsted has warned.

Amanda Spielman, head of the schools inspectorate, said in her annual report published on Tuesday that the Covid pandemic has “continued to cast a shadow over education and children’s social care”, with the energy crisis bringing even “more turbulence”.

The report noted that the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis in education was “compounding problems left over from the pandemic,” warning that children continued to bear the brunt of the workforce crisis.

Schools across the country have struggled with a haemorrhage of teaching assistants over the past year as headteachers tighten their purse strings amid soaring inflation, the report said.

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Ofsted warned that supply issues would have a knock-on effect on the quality of children’s education, with pupils of mixed abilities increasingly lumped together into large classes.

The schools inspectorate said the situation was being exacerbated by problems attracting new recruits, as teachers continue to leave the profession in droves amid frustrations over poor pay and high workloads.

Children are also losing out on sports, drama, music and extracurricular activities as a result of ongoing Covid-related absences, the report said.

It warned that the problems were spread across education sectors, with nurseries and care centres also facing significant staff shortages as employees flee “for higher paid or more flexible employment”.

Ofsted also noted that local authorities are “increasingly reliant on agency social workers, whose terms often include more remote working”, while nurseries have become “over-reliant on apprentices to fill gaps”.

It cautioned that dependence on temporary staff would affect the quality of relationships with children and see workloads catapult for remaining permanent staff.

Pupils with the most complex needs were often the least well-served, Ofsted said, with support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) under even greater strain in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Ms Spielman warned that while there has been improvement since the height of Covid, recovery remains a “work in progress” and achievement gaps are “still wider than before the pandemic”.

“It’s clear that in education – and in children’s social care – staffing issues are compounding problems standing in the way of a full recovery,” she said.

“We owe the current generation of young people as much security and certainty as we can provide for what remains of their childhood… To do that, it’s vital that education and social care providers are able to recruit, train and retain talented and capable people.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said Ofsted’s findings were “shocking and unprecedented”.

“Education and other vital children’s services are being broken by staffing shortages which leave services on their knees,” she said, adding that “the emotional pressure and worry this puts on the education workforce isn’t sustainable”.

“Ministers cannot evade their collective and cumulative responsibility for this shocking state of affairs. They have presided over the corrosive underfunding of education; real terms cuts to teacher and support staff pay; and cuts to the services which families in need can’t manage without,” said Dr Bousted.

Ofsted also raised concerns that pupil attendance is running “persistently” lower than before the pandemic, with Ms Spielman suggesting that lockdowns broke the “clear social contract” on children going to school daily.

She warned that school closures amid the pandemic broke down the structure and routine of “getting children up and to school every day”, and that a minority of families appeared to have “lost sight” of the expectation that children should be attending school every day.

It comes after the Government faced criticism last week for scrapping its Schools Bill, which would have seen ministers introduce a register of children absent from school.

Figures published in October showed that 23.5 per cent of children in England were consistently missing more than 10 per cent of school time in the autumn term of 2021.

Meanwhile, 115,000 children were estimated to have been home educated at some point during the 2020-21 academic year — an increase of 34 per cent on the previous year.

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, said a register of children not in school was “definitely a priority”, but that ministers would try and enforce it as separate legislation outside of the Schools Bill.

Ofsted said it had seen attendance “running persistently somewhat lower than pre-pandemic, over and above anything that could be attributed to illness”.

However, it also noted an improved picture across the level of education in some schools, with 88 per cent of all state-funded schools now judged good or outstanding – up nearly two percentage points from 2021.

The watchdog added that 70 per cent of schools previously judged to require improvement were now up to good or outstanding after inspection last year.

It also included details of the controversial downgrading of hundreds of schools that had been top-performing for decades, including the Henrietta Barnett School in Hampstead, which was judged to be the best state school in the country last week despite being snubbed by Ofsted.

Ofsted said it had inspected nearly 500 previously exempt schools, of which just 17 per cent retained their outstanding grade, while a further 17 per cent were judged to require improvement and four per cent were assessed as inadequate.

Responding to the Ofsted report, a Department for Education spokesperson was quoted by the BBC as saying: “We have put in place a wide range of support, including investing £5 billion in education recovery, with over two million tutoring courses now started, and are boosting school budgets to their highest-ever level in real terms by 2024/25.”



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