Since most schools reopened in September Ofsted has departed from its role of passing judgements on schools and adopting the more supportive one of visiting schools to tell the story of how they are coping in such unprecedented times. The first of their briefing documents, reflecting visits to 121 schools, has been published and in general it provides a positive picture of how schools are coping. Although Ofsted’s visits were undertaken before the full severity of the second wave of the virus was known, it shows schools gaining the confidence of parents through their provision for pupils’ safety, pupils settling back well and a confidence that schools will return to their normal curriculum in the Summer term.
Schools are, however, scathing about the policy environment they have had to work in with lack of clarity and consistency in national and local guidance and the lack of access to testing for the virus. It is also an area for concern that many schools have not yet introduced all subjects with some primary schools, for example, concentrating on extra reading. The narrowing of the curriculum will not address any deficits in the academic progress of the ‘COVID generation’ and the strategies of some secondary schools in encouraging students to drop an option subject will help only to embed disadvantage for a generation.
Young people have lost a substantial amount of their formal education. As a significant number of them, particularly the disadvantaged, have not been able to successfully learn at home during the lock down, inequality will increase. Pupils and students have missed out on an important body of knowledge. skills and understanding in different subject areas. What is essential to ensure that the ‘COVID generation’ is able to make appropriate progress through their educational career is what some but not all schools are doing. Schools all need to identify within all curriculum subjects the key concepts and knowledge which need to be covered and how they can create appropriate curriculum time so that that there are sufficient opportunities for learning. This should encourage curriculum innovation, an understanding of what pupils and students already know and clear thinking about the key critical areas to be covered to ensure progress in subjects.