We recently hosted a webinar based around COVID catch-up funding, as we’re keen to explore what we’re all learning about children’s current needs following 18 months of disrupted education. As the Department for Education has recently laid out further measures as part of their extended catch-up funding plans, we wanted to explore how schools might want to allocate funding, and the role Ofsted will play in the process going forward. Presenter Professor Toby Salt was joined by two special guest panelists:
Here is a summary of some of their insights!
Amy shed some light on what’s worked well so far in a national context. She began by contextualising what she’s seen in schools since the pandemic began with her work at Ofsted, and explaining that particular focus on English and Maths has been key for a lot of schools, particularly within primary education:
“The schools that are doing this really well are focusing particularly on English and Maths and lots of great work on reading. Reading in primary is working perhaps a little bit better than reading in secondary. Extra time is usually found for reading, English and Maths by creating extra room from foundation subjects. And sometimes that's the right priority to make for some children, and in other contexts it's not. (...) We've seen that in remote education the whole class reading books over video, that happened a lot over the autumn term. But for kids, particularly in secondary, I think we need to not underestimate the challenge in secondary sometimes with reading. Some kids need even more support, and we're not always seeing that happen.”
Sameena explained what she has seen regionally in North West England with regard to catch-up, focussing on wellbeing:
“Some schools are reporting that children have put on weight, that they have been inactive over COVID. So they are focusing quite a lot on the use of play and physical activities. And this has been done in conjunction with volunteer and community agencies that are coming in and actually providing some of those additional activities that are needed. Also, some schools have been focusing quite a lot on social and emotional learning programmes such as Thrive and other similar activities. (...) One school’s using a ‘forest schools’ approach and I know quite a few other schools are doing that to explore and provide opportunities for play exploration and risk taking, so that children and young people are developing their confidence and self esteem through hands-on experience in natural settings.”
Labelling children can obstruct our view of more complex issues, Sameena began by arguing:
“One of the things I think we tend to do in education is to focus on labels. And we use crude labels such as ‘disadvantaged pupils’ and ‘pupils eligible for free school meals’ when looking at the use of pupil premium and catch-up funds. And – dare I say it – some schools even called the pupils ‘pupil premium children’, which I find is too much of a label, really.”
Sameena went on to give an overview of the complex intersecting demographics of pupils in the UK, and that their needs are wide ranging:
“Out of 100 pupils, based on 2020 data, roughly 17.3% have eligibility for free school meals, and obviously that has grown over the pandemic. But 33% of those children are from minority ethnic backgrounds, one in five pupils have English as a second language. 15% of those children have special educational needs, with 12% having SEN support and 3.3% with education, health and care plans. (...) So I think we need to just be very careful that we are meeting the needs of a wide range of pupils.”
In Sameena’s view, a richer understanding of intersectionality within schools could help to better meet the needs of more pupils:
“One of the things I’d be emphasing to colleagues in schools is intersectionality, which is a term that was coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, and looking at how more than one characteristic comes together alongside social class. So that could be ethnicity, gender, disability, and so on, and how that comes together to impact on pupil attainment and progress in schools. We do need to move beyond the binary definitions and understand the complexities and nuances. And what COVID has done is shed a spotlight in terms of infection rates, and suddenly deaths within these communities. What we are beginning to see is obviously, some pupils within those groups are actually, you know, further behind than others. So it's really important that we drill down and know our pupils really well.”
Amy gave some context; that Ofsted’s role in catch-up funding is still subject to confirmation :
“The first thing to say is that nothing's been announced yet about our role from September onwards. (...) We're not an auditor, we're inspecting the quality of education. And we expect that to continue in our current framework. So anything you hear over the next few months that suggests that we're expecting a particular form of recording or paper gathering around catch-up, it's very, very likely to be untrue.”
Despite this, Ofsted will be monitoring the same aspects of education they always have in relation to the way schools have allocated their funding, she explained:
““What we will be looking at – because any catch-up funding or additional time is part of what a school does – is catch-up funding in relation to the quality of education and the curriculum, so we will expect that school leaders have thought about the use of that additional time. How are they making those decisions about where to put additional resources or additional time? What evidence is that based on: what assessment information? But also, how do schools know about what their pupils know and can do across the whole curriculum? So really trying to get under the skin of decision making and the implementation of those decisions.”
We’d like to thank Sameena and Amy for taking part in this webinar. If you’d like to see updates on future webinars, make sure you follow us on Twitter.
You can watch the hour long webinar in full below.