What the Ofsted report on learning during the Covid crisis means for you

There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s minds that the Covid-19 crisis would have a negative impact on students. However, the results from Ofsted inspections, released this morning, reveal the extent of the damage. 

Worryingly, the report illustrates that the majority of students have slipped back in their learning to some extent, since schools were closed back in March. So, how badly have students been affected by the pandemic? And what does it mean for your school?

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What the report says

Ofsted carried out 380 visits to school between 29th September and 23rd October to determine the current status of students’ educational progress and overall well-being following the reopening of schools. The information within the report reflected observations made by school leaders in both primary and secondary school settings. 

The main findings from the report can be categorised into three areas:

Academic performance

Primary school and secondary school leaders have noticed that students had lost key skills and essential knowledge due to the first national lockdown, resulting in a decline in performance in:

  • Reading comprehension and verbal fluency 
  • Writing proficiency and stamina 
  • Mathematics and understanding mathematical theory 
  • Practical subjects such as design and technology, music, and PE due to lack of hands-on experience

Students whose first language wasn’t English were reported to be struggling more in these areas compared to native English speakers. 

Student attendance

The report stated that, in some schools, attendance had dropped. Higher absenteeism is strongly linked to poorer academic achievement, as students with absences of 15-20% are two times less likely to achieve 5 or more GCSE’s at a C grade or higher. 

This drop in attendance is mainly due to the need to self-isolate. Over one quarter of schools regularly sent ‘bubbles’ of 15-80 students home to self-isolate. However, in the cases of positive COVID-19 outbreaks in year groups, more than 400 students were thought to have been sent home. This constant disruption to learning has caused many students to fall behind their peers academically, with some constantly having to catch up with learning. 

Student well-being  

Educators reported that students were generally happy to be back in a school environment, but had noticed negative changes in some students’ well-being and behaviour. The main differences observed were:

  • Reduced concentration due to changes in student’s physical and mental stamina to focus for long periods of time. Some teachers even reported that students were ‘disconnected’ from their learning.
  • Increased incidence of anti-social behaviour and aggression between students. The report suggests that experiences of trauma, domestic violence, and a decline in mental health was the cause for some cases. 
  • Prolonged isolation due to schools being closed down and school holidays meant that some students had diminished communication skills and were struggling to interact and maintain friendships with their peers 


How to get students back on track?

Although schools remain open through this second lockdown, there’s no doubt that this period won’t continue to present challenges for students. 

So, what remains is for us to learn some strategies to help get students back on track. 

Teach resilience 

What 2020 has highlighted is the importance of developing resilience in your students. As this year has been particularly challenging, it is important that you, as an educator, can cultivate a supportive environment for your students.

Remind students that they can view this year as a learning opportunity for both personal and academic growth. Students need to recognise that failure is okay and only temporary. In these uncertain times, they should focus less on what they can’t control and more so on what they can control. 

Rekindle motivation

After a long time off from school with home learning, students may be struggling to get back into the swing of things. Lack of focus and motivation may be contributing to the loss in student progress. 

So, rekindling students’ motivation to work hard is going to be important. Teachers can help this by encouraging students to think about short-term and long-term goals, and about how working hard now will help them later in life. 

Remind students of their potential

Students may be aware of the impact that Covid-19 is likely to have on their learning. They may notice themselves if they feel they’re slipping behind. This might well make students feel helpless and less inclined to try and work hard. 

So, alongside aiming to boost motivation, schools and teachers should remind students of their potential. Foster a positive attitude that they will overcome any setback that has occurred, help them to challenge negative thoughts that might hold them back, and encourage their belief in their abilities, for example through using effective praise. This should help to give students the confidence and determination needed to get their learning back on track. 

Provide support

The students who Ofsted showed to be coping the best are those who received good support from those around them, and who have been able to spend quality time with family. So, the importance of nurturing students through this time is clear. Parents, families and guardians can:

Teachers can also play a supportive role, through regularly connecting with students to see how they are getting on, with regard to both their studies and how they are feeling. 

Alongside support, provide challenge

Provide challenges that offer students a chance to regain progress and show their potential. A little challenge to boost hard work, accompanied by the right level of support and encouragement, will help to foster resilience

Challenge also gives students a short-term strategy to focus on, and if teachers can maintain high expectations, this will help students to meet these challenges, reinforcing their belief in their potential and kick-starting a cycle of improving performance. 

Don’t overload your students 

A short guide to cognitive load to start with: our working memory has a very limited capacity for what it can focus on at one time, to be able to transfer information into our long-term memory. This is a confusing time for students, they are likely being exposed to a lot of information regarding Covid-19 and constant changes in their education. 

As students are already falling behind, teachers should aim to provide students with only the most important information for them to focus on. Avoid overloading students, and this will ensure that the information they really need to learn has a better chance of getting ingrained into their long-term memory.

Individual or small group teaching

Some students are struggling more than others, and this means that to some extent, schools may need to tailor their support to bear this in mind. Consider providing individual or small group sessions to those students who are really falling behind, such as those who aren’t native English speakers. 

Research suggests that groups of four or five members encourages more productivity, and are more diverse in their thinking. It will also allow you to quickly identify which students are struggling the most and to know how to best provide support. Having one on one teaching with students you feel are falling behind will help boost their motivation and self-confidence.


Final Thoughts

The Ofsted report, released this morning, has confirmed growing concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on students’ education, showing that many students are falling behind in key skills like reading, writing, and maths, and are struggling with their well-being too. 

Schools and teachers also admit that they are experiencing an overwhelming amount of pressure to deal with these challenges. So, we hope that these research-based strategies may be helpful in supporting students through this time, and nurturing both their learning and their well-being. 

Read the full Ofsted report here. If you need more resources to help your students, don’t hesitate to download:

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