- Ofsted inspections have been put on hold until at least January 2021.
- In the autumn term, Ofsted will be doing ‘interim visits’ to schools and other settings and will look at how schools are managing the return to full-time education for their pupils, including their use of ‘blended learning’.
- Schools will not be judged by Ofsted on their response to the Covid-19 situation during the period of lockdown in spring and summer 2020.
On 17 March 2020, less than a week before the UK went into lockdown, Ofsted announced that all routine inspections were being suspended. Apart from ‘urgent monitoring visits’, there would be no inspections for the foreseeable future.
Given the situation with Covid-19, the announcement was unsurprising. Not only would it have been strange for external visitors to visit schools at a time when the country was in lockdown, but ‘school as normal’ was about to be suspended as well. All schools and settings were told to close, except for a limited group of key workers’ children, after 20 March.
During lockdown, many schools remained at least partially open or, where necessary, key workers’ children were sent to local ‘hubs’. Learning moved online for many parents, with schools sending home timetables, resources, ideas for home learning and so on.
Anecdotally, the range of provision was varied, with some schools offering ‘live lessons’, while others asked parents to use something that looked like ‘school as normal’, with the usual timetable, but at home. Many schools encouraged parents to engage with a wide range of home learning activities, including those that were not on the normal timetable.
A key issue for schools during lockdown was access to resources, particularly laptops and wifi connections. A DfE scheme designed to provide laptops was slow to come into place, and schools reported waiting for long periods before their students had access to the necessary resources.
Some schools took the approach of regularly sending home written materials and other resources, rather than relying on technology, because they knew that their learners would not have access to the internet or to a printer.
Ofsted post lockdown
On 6 July 2020, a short commentary by Amanda Spielman was published on the Gov.UK website. Spielman’s article explained the work that Ofsted would be doing as schools prepared to re-open to all pupils from September 2020. A more detailed outline of how Ofsted would operate during the pandemic, and how the ‘phased return to inspection’ would work, was also published.
Ofsted inspections have been put on hold until at least January 2021. However, Ofsted will be continuing its registration and regulatory work in early years, and it will also be continuing non-routine inspections, for instance where there are safeguarding concerns.
In the autumn term, Ofsted will be doing ‘interim visits’ to schools and other settings. These will look at how schools are managing the return to full-time education for their pupils, and will also consider ‘blended learning’, where education takes place both on and off site.
Ofsted has said that it will visit all schools that are graded ‘inadequate’ and also a sample of schools with other gradings. These visits will be based around a ‘professional conversation’ with school leaders. They will not be formal inspections as such, and will not result in the usual kind of Ofsted reports and gradings.
Instead, these visits will focus on identifying the barriers that schools have faced, and are still facing, in managing the return after lockdown. They will also look at how the curriculum is working in the current situation, as well as how the children are settling back in to routines and expected behaviours. Ofsted will also look at the situation for children who have specific health or wellbeing issues, and at the work being done around safeguarding.
Understandably, there will not be lesson visits during these or any focus on additional paperwork. Ofsted has also stated that it will not judge schools on their response to the Covid-19 situation during the period of lockdown in spring and summer 2020. It has also clarified that schools will normally receive notice before an interim visit.
Self-evaluation of lockdown learning
Ofsted has stated that it will not currently assess schools’ response during the lockdown. However, a useful starting point for any self-evaluation will be to look at how your school dealt with learning offsite.
By evaluating your approach, you can identify areas of strength and those for improvement. You can also work out how you might continue to help your learners, for instance in the event of further localised lockdowns.
In addition, if your school receives an interim visit, a self-evaluation of your provision will provide a really useful starting point for talking to an inspector about the barriers you have faced and how you have overcome them.
As a starting point for self-evaluation, you could consider the following questions:
- Contacts with parents – how did you utilise existing and new methods for staying in touch with your families during lockdown?
- What did your setting do to motivate children to learn at home? How did you adapt your usual policy on completing work, in light of the need for flexible approaches?
- How did you aim to encourage all families to participate in lockdown learning, and how did you take account of the situation for those families who might have also been working at home during this time, or who might have suffered a bereavement?
- How did you encourage children to send in the work they completed at home and what feedback did they receive on this work?
- How did you ensure that there was flexibility and equity within your approach – for instance, where pupils might not have had access to resources?
- How did you support your families in accessing the internet as required, for instance through sending computers home or applying for laptops from the DfE scheme?
- How did you work to support children’s wellbeing and the wellbeing of staff?
- How did you ensure that any safeguarding or GDPR issues were mitigated, for instance around the use of online platforms?
- For those key workers’ children who attended your setting, what approach did you take to the curriculum?
- How did you manage staffing during the lockdown period, for instance supporting any staff who were shielding or needed to self-isolate?
- How did you gather feedback on how your approaches were working, so that you could improve your offer?
- How will you assess the children’s learning needs on their return to school after lockdown?
- How will you be looking to mitigate any ‘gaps’ that might have opened up during lockdown, and how will you celebrate what was achieved by your families?
- How have you communicated with your families about the new arrangements for the school day as schools re-open to all students?
You might like to use the ‘Checklist – Self-evaluation’ in the Toolkit to assess and evaluate your provision.
The ‘Ofsted Big Conversation’ - Ofsted and EYFS
An ‘Ofsted Big Conversation’ was hosted by June O’Sullivan of the London Early Years Foundation on Friday 24 July. At the Zoom meeting, Gill Jones and Wendy Ratcliff of Ofsted explained more about the picture for early years settings and schools in the autumn term.
It was explained that Ofsted would be taking a slightly different approach between schools and PVI early years settings. Where a PVI early years setting had been judged ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’, Ofsted would be making interim visits in the autumn term to check whether settings had met the actions set. Ofsted would notify the setting ahead of this visit in most circumstances, but there may also be unannounced visits.
In essence, Ofsted would be carrying on its regulatory work in the way that it would have been doing normally, by checking against actions. Ofsted has said that it will be sensitive about the difficulties caused by Covid-19. Since the EYFS has been disapplied, it would not be possible for Ofsted to check against the statutory framework in early years settings.
Interim Ofsted visits and hygiene procedures
At the ‘Ofsted Big Conversation’ it was confirmed that Ofsted would comply with all requests from settings in terms of hygiene procedures, including wearing a mask where they were asked. If a setting or school asked that the inspectors remain outside, for instance if there was not sufficient space to socially distance inside, the discussion might be held outdoors.
Similarly, Ofsted inspectors will follow any instructions around using toilet facilities, for instance the requirement to wipe down surfaces after use and to wash hands before and after visiting the toilet.
- Commentary by Amanda Spielman, Ofsted, 6 July 2020: http://bit.ly/Plans-for-autumn
- Education plans from September 2020, Ofsted, 6 July 2020: http://bit.ly/Education-Plans
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Sue Cowley is an author and teacher trainer. She has helped to run her local early years setting for the last ten years. Find out more at www.suecowley.co.uk.