Staff crisis hampering children’s pandemic recovery, says Ofsted

Children’s recovery from the pandemic is being held back by a workforce crisis in schools, colleges and early years, with children who have special education needs among those worst affected, according to England’s schools inspectorate, Ofsted.

Publishing her annual report on Tuesday, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said the Covid pandemic continued to “cast a long shadow” over children’s education and social care, and despite teachers’ best efforts, recovery was “far from complete”.

Staffing problems at all levels of children’s education and social care were compounding problems that stand in the way of a full recovery, Ofsted said, with schools struggling to recruit teaching assistants to help with lost learning, and nurseries losing early years workers to better paid jobs in retail and hospitality.

Children are also losing out on sports, drama, music and other enrichment activities, as schools continue to experience staff absence due to Covid, and intervention for children who need additional help has been delayed due to fewer support staff.

Pupils with the most complex needs were often the least well served, the report said, with support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) under even greater strain during the pandemic from which it had not recovered.

Ofsted said demand for specialist services had grown significantly, with an additional 77,000 children identified as having SEND taking the overall figure up to 1.5 million pupils, meaning speech and language therapy and mental health support were not always available and delays in assessments for education, health and care plans.

Launching her sixth annual report since taking over the role, Spielman said: “The pandemic continued to cast a shadow over education and children’s social care for much of the past year. And the energy crisis and economic pressures have brought more turbulence in recent months.

“Across all age groups in education, careful thought has been given to making up lost learning. However, achievement gaps are still wider than before the pandemic, meaning the recovery is far from complete. And 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.

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

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Overall however, the report said inspections suggested an “improving picture” with 88% of all state-funded schools now judged good or outstanding – up nearly two percentage points from 2021 and 70% of schools previously judged to require improvement now up to good or outstanding following inspection last year.

The report also includes details about the controversial downgrading of hundreds of schools that were previously exempt from inspection after being rated outstanding. Ofsted said it had inspected nearly 500 previously exempt schools of which 370 schools (17%) retained their outstanding grade, while 17% were judged to require improvement and 4% assessed as inadequate.

“A higher proportion of these previously exempt schools are now judged less than good than is the case for all schools nationally,” the report noted.

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