Covid: Ofsted warning over supply and catch-up tutor shortage

Schools have been using their own staff to deliver catch-up tuition and to cover for Covid absences because of a lack of available tutors and supply teachers, a new Ofsted report has revealed. The education watchdog has published a report…

Schools have been using their own staff to deliver catch-up tuition and to cover for Covid absences because of a lack of available tutors and supply teachers, a new Ofsted report has revealed.

The education watchdog has published a report today on the impact of the pandemic on schools, drawn from inspections carried out in the autumn and spring terms.

It found that the coronavirus pandemic has continued to hinder pupils’ learning and personal development into this year, but also found signs of improvements. School leaders told inspectors that there are gaps in pupils’ knowledge, particularly in maths, phonics and writing stamina, but more leaders said these gaps were closing compared with last term. The report also highlights the challenges faced by schools as a result of Covid absence and issues with the government’s flagship National Tutoring Programme (NTP). Some schools said they were using the NTP to help pupils who need additional support, but most told Ofsted they preferred to train their own staff as tutors rather than using tuition partners, mainly due to a lack of available tutors. However, this placed additional pressure on school staff. The Ofsted report published today said: “Some schools had found that tutors did not follow their schools’ teaching approaches and said there was not enough evidence about the quality of the tutoring, leading them to conclude that the additional tutoring may not benefit pupils.” It said that instead, Ofsted’s report adds: “We have seen some good practice in using trained teaching assistants as tutors but using internal staff has placed additional pressure on already strained school staff.” The inspectorate’s new report said most of these schools were directing their attention towards tutoring for maths and English, in particular phonics and reading. Most schools said they had targeted pupils for tutoring – for example, those with specific gaps in learning, those not meeting expectations, pupils with SEND or those entitled to pupil premium funding. Some schools were holding tutoring sessions outside of normal teaching hours, either before or after school. New figures, published by the DfE yesterday alongside the announcement that the NTP Tuition Partner contract held by Dutch firm Randstad was being axed, show that of the 887,521 tuition courses started so far this academic year, more than three-quarters (674,941) have been delivered through the school-led route. Unsurprisingly, Ofsted said that staff absence related to Covid-19 was a challenge for schools in the spring term, which was exacerbated by difficulties recruiting supply teachers. This resulted in increased staff workloads, as schools used their own staff to cover lessons. It said around a quarter of planned school inspections before the spring half term were deferred, predominantly down to staffing issues related to coronavirus. Signs of improvement in pupils’ learning The watchdog said it was promising that leaders were noticing improvements in pupils’ learning, wellbeing and behaviour this term. The report highlights how it saw schools using effective strategies to check what pupils have learned and to appropriately adapt the curriculum to meet their needs. However, the report also warns that the pandemic has continued to hinder some pupils’ learning and personal development. It stated that in January 2022, many schools said that Covid-19 had reduced pupils’ attendance. This was a particular challenge for special schools. Leaders also continued to mention the negative impact of the pandemic on pupils’ wellbeing and behaviour. This term, more leaders have noticed improvements in these areas. But many also reported that pupils in Reception needed more support to develop social skills such as taking turns and listening. The report added: “The pandemic has also continued to affect pupils’ knowledge and skills, either because content had not been taught when schools were partially closed or because pupils did not learn well remotely. “The leaders that we spoke to this term were identifying similar issues to those reported in autumn, including knowledge gaps in phonics, mathematics and writing stamina. “Some schools also reported a decline in pupils taking certain subjects for GCSE and A level, including triple science and English Baccalaureate subjects.” Concern over pupils’ mental health Ofsted also warns that the pandemic’s impact on some pupils’ mental health and wellbeing remains a concern. It said leaders talked about pupils having lower levels of resilience and confidence, and increased levels of anxiety. Many schools were providing in-house support for these pupils because external agencies often had long wait times. This has been particularly challenging for special schools, which rely on a lot of support from other agencies, the new report said. Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, said: “We have seen lots of really good work across early years, schools and further education this term. “Most providers are using effective catch-up strategies to spot gaps in children and learners’ knowledge and skills and help get them back to where they need to be. “In many cases, those gaps have closed altogether. And we’ve also seen promising improvements in children’s wellbeing and behaviour. “But elsewhere, concerns remain, and it’s clear that the pandemic has created some lingering challenges. I’m particularly worried about younger children’s development, which, if left unaddressed, could potentially cause problems for primary schools down the line.” Get the biggest education stories of the week delivered straight to your inbox every Friday with the Tes magazine newsletter. 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