Strong signs of recovery in education, but challenges remain

The reports find that great progress has been made across the education sector in helping children and students regain the knowledge and skills they lost during the pandemic. However, amid strong signs of recovery, it is also clear that many education providers continue to face challenges, some of which could have longer-term consequences.

The 4 reports, which are a follow-up to those published in December, draw on evidence from around 280 inspections and multiple focus groups with inspectors to understand how Early Years, Schools, Higher Education and Skills and Prison Education providers are responding. current issues, and the approaches they are taking to help children and students catch up.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said:

We’ve seen a lot of really good jobs in early years, schools, and higher education this quarter. Most providers are using effective remedial strategies to spot gaps in children’s and students’ knowledge and skills and help get them back to where they need to be. In many cases, those gaps have been completely closed. And we’ve also seen promising improvements in children’s well-being and behavior.

But elsewhere concerns remain, and it’s clear the pandemic has created some lingering challenges. I am particularly concerned about the development of younger children which, if not addressed, could cause problems in primary schools in the future.

early years

Today’s report finds that the pandemic has continued to affect young children’s communication and language development, with many providers noticing speech and language delays. Others said babies have had trouble responding to basic facial expressions, which may be due to reduced social interaction during the pandemic.

The negative impact on children’s personal, social and emotional development has also continued, with many lacking confidence in group activities.

Children’s social and friendship-building skills have been affected. Some providers reported that toddlers and preschoolers needed more support with sharing and taking turns. To address this, the staff provided as many opportunities as possible for the children to mingle with others and build confidence in social situations.

There continues to be an impact on children’s physical development, including delays in babies learning to crawl and walk. Some providers reported that children had regressed in their independence and self-care skills. As a result, several have increased the amount of time children spend in physical activities to develop gross motor skills.

A growing number of providers were concerned that compared to before the pandemic, fewer children had been toilet trained independently. This means that more children may not be ready for school at age 4. Providers were also concerned about obesity and dental health, so they have focused on providing well-balanced meals and increasing time for physical activity.

Many providers have reported difficulty retaining high-quality staff since the start of the pandemic. This has left some qualified professionals in short supply, which has affected the quality of teaching and remedial strategies.

Some providers are concerned about their long-term sustainability given the fluctuations in the number of children enrolled.


Today’s report finds that the pandemic continued to hinder students’ learning and personal development well into this year. Leaders still described gaps in students’ knowledge, particularly in math, phonics, and writing stamina. However, compared to the last period, more leaders said these gaps were closing.

The inspectors found that schools were using effective strategies to check what students had learned and adapt the curriculum to fill gaps in knowledge and skills. Some schools used regular assessments to identify what students had remembered and provided time to review concepts they hadn’t learned well remotely.

The impact of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of some students remained a cause for concern. Leaders discussed students who had lower levels of resilience and confidence, and higher levels of anxiety. Many schools provided internal support for these students because outside agencies often had long waiting times. This has been particularly challenging for special schools, which rely heavily on support from other agencies.

Some schools were using the National Tutoring Program to help students who needed extra support, but most told Ofsted they preferred to train their own staff as tutors rather than use teaching partners, mainly due to a lack of tutors. available. However, this put additional pressures on school staff.

Staff absence related to COVID-19 was a challenge for schools in the spring term, compounded by difficulties in hiring substitute teachers. This resulted in an increased workload for staff, as the schools used their own staff to cover the lessons.

Additional Education and Skills (FES)

Suppliers have continued to respond to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic with creativity and resilience. New elements have been added to the programs to reflect the impact of the pandemic on the job landscape, and collaboration has increased across the sector to address learning gaps.

Sixth Form schools noted that many students had lower levels of knowledge and skills, and were adapting their curriculum to help them progress.

Work experience placements remained difficult to secure, particularly in health and social care, but providers were working hard to offer alternatives.

The disruption to GCSEs experienced by the new intake of students negatively affected behaviors and attitudes. Providers reported that social skills and confidence had decreased and more disruptive behavior was observed.

Recruiting and retaining staff was a challenge for many providers. In some cases, this had impacted the quality of education and increased the workload of staff.

Mental health concerns remained high. New students who had enrolled in the school were experiencing higher levels of test anxiety. Providers offered additional support to help students build stamina and prepare for formal exams.

Many trainees were not at the level required to take their endpoint assessments, and a significant number remained in the programs beyond their planned end date.

prison education

The number of prisoners participating in education, skills and work was increasing, albeit slowly. But prisoner turnout was still much lower than pre-pandemic levels. In some cases, no activity had been carried out in the classroom since March 2020.

Many prison leaders had taken a cautious approach to reintroducing in-person classes. This has had a particularly negative impact on prisoners who find it difficult to learn independently, for example those with low levels of literacy and numeracy, who speak English as an additional language, or who have additional learning needs. In some cases, prison leaders provided personalized support to these groups.

Restrictions related to the pandemic have reduced the number of inmates who can participate in face-to-face education. Therefore, leaders have had to prioritize which inmates they offer these opportunities to. Some leaders have prioritized those who have already engaged well with remote education, rather than inmates most in need of support.

The few education, training and work activities that were taking place were generally of good quality. However, the support and resources available did not meet the needs of all students.

When they returned to the classroom, staff at most prisons were screening inmates for any gaps in learning due to COVID-19. However, this information was not always used to plan the curriculum in a way that met their needs and helped them catch up on missed learning.

Support for prisoners identified as having special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) remains insufficient.

An increased number of COVID-19 outbreaks has led to staff absences at all levels, including managers, who have had to focus on operational issues. This has meant that leadership activities, such as effective curriculum planning and quality assurance of education, have been neglected.

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