Remote learning ‘not fully aligned’ with curriculum, Ofsted finds

Schools are not yet always aligning their remote learning with their normal curriculum, Ofsted has found as their programme of ‘interim visits’ gets underway. Between late September and Christmas Ofsted will be carrying out these interim visits to a range of schools and other education providers, including all schools currently graded ‘inadequate’. Before the main programme of visits commenced a pilot phase was undertaken, with 121 visits between 14 and 18 September 2020, and Ofsted has now published a briefing reflecting on the main themes emerging from this pilot. The visits reflected on in the report were all schools which had volunteered to be visited, and Ofsted acknowledges that they may therefore not be representative of all schools’ experiences across the country.

Most schools visited were providing some form of remote learning, for example for pupils who were self-isolating or shielding, and those that weren’t had plans to do when necessary. Some schools had put in place remote education for whole classes/year groups, because of confirmed cases of coronavirus. Remote learning was often being delivered through online methods, such as recorded online lessons or individual study modules. Live online lessons were less common. However many school leaders said that their remote learning was only aligned with their existing curriculum to some extent, or not at all. Ofsted intends to explore remote learning in more detail in the subsequent visits throughout the rest of the term.

In the visits inspectors found that a focus for many schools had been on helping students adjust to being back at school after months away, and establishing gaps in pupils’ learning. Some schools had returned to teaching all subjects straight away, while others were phasing in the teaching of subjects such as modern foreign languages and geography. In all primary schools visited inspectors found there was a focus on reading, including phonics. In secondary schools most school leaders reported that their pupils were back to studying the full range of subjects, including those students studying towards GCSEs etc. Some had reordered their curriculum to prioritise things which could be taught effectively via remote learning, and a few had extended their teaching time for Year 11 pupils to assist them in catching up with their learning.

In terms of pupils reaction to being back at school, most leaders told inspectors that pupils had settled back into school well, and were adapting effectively to new rules and routines related to coronavirus. However a number reported at least some pupils were finding it more difficult to concentrate on their learning than usual, or displaying less resilience – ‘for example, becoming quickly upset if the work seemed difficult’ - than they would expect. For pupils with SEND, particularly those who do not communicate verbally, some leaders told inspectors that being away from school has meant that their communication skills have regressed.

In an HMCI commentary accompanying the briefing, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman emphasised the importance of schools’ aligning their remote learning with their curriculum, writing: ‘If we expect many children to find themselves at home in term time once or even more often this year, for possibly a fortnight at a time, they must not lose the progression that a strong, well-sequenced curriculum brings. Without that structure, remote education becomes more about filling time than about effective learning’. She also noted the danger of ‘myths’ circulating about what coronavirus restrictions mean schools are and aren’t allowed to do, such as ‘no singing; no swimming; all doors open, no matter the weather’. In order to tackle such myths she suggests that ‘a consolidation and simplification of government advice for schools would help bring clarity for teachers and parents alike as we head towards the winter.’

The full Ofsted briefing can be found here https://tinyurl.com/y5479726 and HMCI commentary here: https://tinyurl.com/y2gwuffq. Ofsted will produce further briefings summarising findings from its visits throughout the autumn term.

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