Today, a report from Ofsted highlighted some of the impacts of the pandemic on schools and pupils, and therefore the importance of schools staying open during the current period of restrictions and beyond.
Ofsted has said their report is based on the reflections of leaders working in schools. The report finds that some children may not have developed basic skills and learning because of time out of school, and restrictions on movement during the first lockdown – although, speaking on the Today Programme, a head disputed anecdotal reports of toilet trained children regressing, saying that they are seeing more children not toilet trained at the start of school but this does not mean they have regressed.
This illustrates why we made sure schools stayed open for the most vulnerable pupils and children of critical workers in the spring. We worked hard to enable pupils in specific year groups to return to schools in June before the summer holidays, and were pleased that over 1.6 million did so. The report shows why it has been a national priority for schools to open for all pupils, full-time, since the start of the autumn term.
Speaking on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 This morning, Ofsted Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “It adds up to a strong case for keeping children in school and the national priority on keeping schools and nurseries open.” She also backed the decision to allow students to sit GCSE. A level and other exams next year, saying “we need children to aim for something”.
The need to keep schools open is also backed by the Chief Medical Officers of all four home nations who say the risk from missing school to pupils’ education and their wellbeing is greater than the risk posed by the virus.
Since September, all schools have been open to all pupils and we have seen steady, high attendance. Department for Education statistics published today show that excluding the half term period, pupil attendance has remained approximately constant, at between 89% and 90%. The number of children attending early years settings is also up from 561,000 to 754,000. More information about rising attendance can be found here.
To further support children, we launched a £1 billion Covid catch up package to directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time as a result of the pandemic, which headteachers and school leaders have the flexibility to decide how to spend in the best interests of their students.
Schools have also been eligible to claim for costs incurred between March and July due to increased premises related costs associated with keeping schools open over the Easter and summer half term holidays; support for free school meals for eligible children who were not in school, where schools were not using the national voucher scheme; and additional cleaning costs required due to confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases, over and above the cost of existing cleaning arrangements.
For the vast majority of children, particularly the most vulnerable, school is the best place to be for their education and wellbeing. For pupils who are unable to attend school due to Covid-19, it is vital that they have access to high-quality remote education to ensure their development is not disrupted. Schools have been working extremely hard to develop remote education contingency plans, and this is testament to their commitment to ensuring any missed learning is recovered, and that we prevent the attainment gap from widening further.
The Department has also announced a remote education support package, to help schools meet remote education expectations. Many elements of this are already in place, and can be accessed through the remote education service on gov.uk.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
The government has been clear that getting all pupils and students back into full-time education is a national priority, and over 99% of schools have been open since the start of autumn term.
We know that some children do need additional support to catch up as a result of the pandemic, which is why we launched a £1 billion Covid catch up fund for schools to support those children who need it.
Our National Tutoring Programme is now live in schools, providing intensive support to the most disadvantaged children. The evidence shows high quality tutoring can make up as much as three to five months’ lost learning.