Ofsted: Eight key points from latest education recovery research

Providers told Ofsted that apprentices were not being given enough tasks due to pressures on businesses. 

Providers told Ofsted that apprentices were not being given enough tasks due to pressures on businesses. 

4 Apr 2022, 18:00

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Learners in FE are struggling with mental health issues and have lower levels of knowledge and skills, according to Ofsted research into the pandemic’s continuing impact on education providers. 

The watchdog published four new reports on education recovery, based on evidence from 62 routine inspections that took place between January 10, 2022 and February 18, 2022.  

These reports explore how early years, schools, further education and skills, and prison education providers are responding to ongoing issues. They follow on from an earlier series of reports that were published in December, 2021. 

“We have seen lots of really good work across early years, schools and further education this term,” said Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman. 

“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.

“But elsewhere concerns remain, and it’s clear that the pandemic has created some lingering challenges.”

Below are some key findings for further education and skills and prison education. 

Many learners at sixth form colleges had lower levels of knowledge and skills

Some sixth-form colleges found that new learners had lower levels of, and more variability in, prior knowledge and skills than usual. 

In response, colleges had developed a curriculum to ensure that learners could reach the expected levels quickly. 

Several engaged in subject-level conversations with feeder schools over the summer and first term to identify any gaps in curriculum coverage and ensure that these were filled. These adjustments helped to ensure that learners made the progress of which they were capable. 

Work experience placements remained difficult to secure

There were some learners on apprenticeships that had not secured work placements because these had yet to be fully reinstated since the pandemic. 

The research said that when learners did have work placements, several providers had concerns that they were not being given enough tasks at work to develop their skills sufficiently, due to pressures on businesses. 

A number of employers were not giving apprentices enough time for off-the-job training. As a result, some apprentices were studying in their own time. 

Disruption has adversely affected behaviours and attitudes of newest learners

In January and February, Ofsted heard more about issues concerning the behaviour and attitudes of learners, particularly those enrolling from school. 

The research found that standards of behaviour were below expectations. Inspectors attributed this to the disruption learners had experienced in their education over the last two years.

Recruitment and retention of staff a challenge for many 

The pandemic continued to affect staffing in further education and skills providers. One provider, for example, reported that staff turnover had increased by almost 50 per cent. Factors that made recruitment and retention of staff more challenging included the fact that salaries in further education and skills provision were lower than those in industry and the pandemic and experience of lockdowns had made some staff reconsider their careers. 

The impact of this was significant and, in some cases, had a knock-on effect on the quality of education. 

Mental health concerns remained high

In Ofsted’s December 2021 briefing, they reported that learners’ mental health had suffered during the pandemic. They said today that this was still the case. 

New learners who enrolled from schools were the most severely affected, something Ofsted said was largely due to anxiety about sitting formal exams for the first time and about returning to education more generally. 

The regulator predicted that with exams taking place as usual in summer 2022, the next few months could be difficult for learners and staff. 

Prisoners’ participation in education, skills and work still ‘a lot lower’ than pre-pandemic levels

Ofsted said that leaders in prisons have been slow to maximise prisoners’ participation in face-to-face education, skills and work activities. 

At the time of their visits, the number of prisoners participating in education, skills and work was increasing, albeit slowly. However, their participation in learning was ‘a lot lower’ than pre-pandemic levels and in some cases, no classroom activity had taken place since March 2020. 

The education, skills and work activities that were taking place were generally good

Ofsted inspectors found that the quality of work packs had improved since they were first introduced. This was due to collaborative working between prison leaders and education providers. 

The prisoners they spoke to felt well supported by their teachers to work through the packs, and teachers tended to give useful written feedback on how they could improve. 

Support for prisoners identified as having special educational needs and/or disabilities remains insufficient

Ofsted found that those prisoners with the greatest need generally received the least support to continue learning through the pandemic. 

There was insufficient support for prisoners identified as having special educational needs and/or disabilities.  

Their inspectors identified three main areas of weakness in the support systems for prisoners with SEND: the identification of, communication about and teaching support for SEND. Most prisons performed well in one or two of these areas but not in all. 

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  1. Looks like prison education has been pushed right up the agenda in terms of visibility, having been an after thought for years. Latest buzz topic perhaps.

    With social unrest an increasing likelihood for all sorts of reasons, a cynic might consider this to be preparing the ground.

    As of 1st April, 80k in prison, with 2k spare capacity.

    40% re-offend within 1 month of release, 75% within nine years of release. Perhaps some stats on how participation in education impacts on reoffending rates… just a suggestion.