State schools

Ofsted boss blasts state schools for putting food parcels ahead of learning during lockdown

Many state schools were more interested in delivering food parcels to the poorest children last summer than in providing distance learning for all their pupils, the head of Ofsted has said.

Teachers often paid “great attention” to children most in difficulty during the first national lockdown, according to Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools.

She said it was “admirable” but added that “in some cases it probably took priority” over ensuring students received a proper education while schools were closed.

Speaking at an Institute for Government online event, Ms Spielman said that when comparing the type of distance learning received by children in private schools against their peers in the sector public, the “inequality” of resources must be recognized.

“Clearly there were huge disparities in what schools were offering, and many parents were comparing what School A was offering and what School B was offering,” she said. “There is an inequity in resources, which I think we need to recognize.”

Advantage of private schools

She went on to say that the average private school has three times the money, more teaching staff and more technology.

“But that doesn’t explain the disparities we’ve seen in the public sector,” Ms. Spielman said at the event. “Another thing I noticed was that in a lot of schools it felt like their focus shifted very quickly to the most disadvantaged children – doing food parcels, doing visits.

“They pay a lot of attention to the most troubled kids, which is admirable, but in some cases it’s probably been a priority… [and] meaning perhaps they no longer had the ability to ensure that there was some kind of education provision for all children.

However, school leaders defended their approach, saying their approach “has helped protect a large number of children from the worst effects of the pandemic”.

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the Head Teachers’ Union NAHT, said: “From the start of the crisis, staff looked after the most vulnerable students as the country entered lockdown; they have effectively reinvented the very concept of “school” by working on the establishment of a distance learning offer.

“The solutions offered by the central government have almost always come long after the schools have sorted things out on their own. Schools learned much faster than policy makers what worked and what students needed.

MPs attack ‘invisible’ Ofsted

Meanwhile Ofsted has come under attack from MPs for being ‘virtually invisible’ during the first lockdown last year.

MP Robert Halfon, Tory chairman of the Education Select Committee, told Dame Christine Ryan, President of Ofsted: “It seems to me that Ofsted was virtually invisible in terms of – particularly during the first lockdown – to clarify what kind of remote control standards learn there should be, and how it should be done, and you just left the field.

“The evidence is there in terms of lost student learning and very, very uneven distance learning from school to school.”

Dame Ryan defended Ofsted before the committee, saying its role “may not have been prominent and showy, but it did a lot of work behind the scenes”, including emergency inspections.