Primary schools put greater focus on reading, Ofsted finds

Ofsted have published a blog post summarising findings from the monitoring visits they conducted during the spring term. These visits, the vast majority of which were carried out remotely, were of schools which had previously been graded ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. No grade was given to schools following the visits, rather inspectors made a judgement as to whether each school was ‘taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances’.

Among their findings were that primary schools had ‘rightly prioritised’ developing the teaching of reading, although some had ‘not achieved what they needed to yet’. Training staff, giving thought to the best resources to use, and buying new reading schemes and books were among the actions primary schools had often taken. Phonics teaching had continued, both on site and remotely, during the period of partial school closures, although some schools found it difficult to teach remotely especially for the weakest readers. In contrast reading had not been prioritised in the same way in secondary schools, although some schools had included whole class reading as part of their ‘form time’ in remote education. However for pupils who struggled to read, Ofsted found there was ‘little, if any’ reading work taking place unless pupils were attending school in person.

Inspectors also found that during the most recent period of partial school closures, there were wide variations in the numbers of vulnerable children and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) attending school. While some schools had almost all pupils in these groups attending, others had very few. Ofsted heard from school leaders that some parents were too worried to send their children in, and also noted that some school leaders were making significant efforts to encourage vulnerable pupils and those with SEND to come in to school.

Another challenge for schools highlighted by the visits was the unequal access that different children have to online resources. Ofsted note that while remote education does not have to be delivered online, in reality it often is. Not all families have access to computers at home, so some children access live lessons via their phone or a parent’s phone. Others have no access at all. Ofsted recognise that there have been efforts to address this issue by schools, but nonetheless inequalities persist and this will have been ‘an important factor in determining how much [pupils] have learned or missed over the last term’.

The inspectorate also report in the blog that for the schools who were visited, curriculum was often an area that had been previously identified for development and ‘it was good to see so many leaders giving careful thought to improving their curriculum’. They note however that development of the curriculum in foundation subjects ‘tended to lag behind Maths and English’.

From this term Ofsted is moving back to conducting what are described as ‘lighter-touch’ monitoring visits on-site, before resuming full inspections from September 2021. The monitoring visits will begin from 4 May, but except where ‘significant concerns are raised’ secondary schools will not be visited during the first half of the summer term. This is to allow them to focus on the teacher-assessed grades process. Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said ‘Our inspections this summer will recognise the current challenges facing schools and help support the catch up of all pupils. We will not grade schools before the autumn – unless we see significant improvement or we identify significant concerns.’

Full Ofsted blog post:

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