Ofsted Talks
Ofsted‘s Sexual Abuse Review

Ofsted‘s Sexual Abuse Review

September 10, 2021

Chris Jones discusses with report author, Anna Trethewey, how the review was carried out and what inspectors discovered about this issue. More than 900 children were interviewed in the course of the review and safeguarding lead Wendy Ghaffar and assistant regional director for London, John Kennedy HMI, join the discussion.

CJ: Chris Jones

AT: Anna Trethewey

WG: Wendy Ghaffar

JK: John Kennedy

M: Millie




CJ: Welcome to this episode of Ofsted Talks. Today we're talking about the sexual abuse review that Ofsted carried out over the last few months. Ofsted undertook the sexual abuse review following testimonies on the 'Everyone's Invited' website which I'm sure listeners will have heard all about. The website got a lot of interest in the media and politics in the general public. And of course, the testimonies on it, were quite distressing and concerning to lots of people. It really highlighted the issue of sexual abuse and harassment, both in schools, and around schools, and had some powerful stories from people of school age and who have recently left schools. Ofsted was asked by the DfE to do a rapid review of the situation in schools, and we'll hear a bit about how we did that and what we found in a couple of minutes. The resulting report that we published was widely covered in the media and is still being discussed, and I hope was important and helpful contribution to the debate and I think it's fair to say it was one of our most significant pieces of work that we've done over the last year.

I'm Chris Jones and Director of Strategy at Ofsted, and I'm presenting this podcast by myself today because Anna Trethewey, who normally presents alongside me is the author of the report we're going to talk about today, Ofsted's report on sexual abuse in schools and colleges.

CJ: Hello Anna. 
AT: Hello. 
CJ: Tell us a little bit about why Ofsted did this report. 
AT: Yeah sure, so we saw it coming through on everyone's invited website, and there was definitely a momentum behind taking a closer look at how this issue plays out for schools and colleges, and we were asked by the government to do a really rapid review to just get under the skin of what we can see so far. 
CJ: Why did Ofsted kind of think this was an important thing to do, why did Ofsted pick this up and run with it so quickly? 
AT: I think we've, we have always known that there are issues particular safeguarding issues in the system that we want to pay attention to - one of our core values is to improve the lives of children and learners and it feels like a really critical thing to do to be able to help them as they develop and experience, you know, some of the things that we've seen on the websites, and the discussions that we've had with leaders really just aren't acceptable so we wanted to be able to support them, and the professionals who work with them to be able to address this issue in the round. 
CJ: So Ofsted didn't have a huge amount of time in which to do this report I think just a couple of months from start to finish, which is not very long to tackle as you said what is hugely important issue.Talk us through kind of the process of conducting the review what actually happened. 
AT: So it was a little bit of an Avengers Assemble moment, I'm not going to lie there was definitely the moment of pulling in resources from right across the organisation and different regions because we knew it was important and we knew it was going to be incredibly rapid, we didn't want the findings to come out, you know, in a year's time, when things didn't feel as relevant as pertinent. That meant that we were quite tightly defined in the scope of the schools that we could get to. There were a couple of primaries couple of colleges, we picked out some of the schools that had been named on the Everyone's Invited website but also where they've been complaints that have been highlighted that has come already through to Ofsted or ISI, and then there was a bit of a random selection in there of schools as well just to try and create a little bit of balance. It's tricky to do, but we wanted to look broadly at the issue and not solely target schools that have already had concerns highlighted, and then it really was a case of all hands on deck, so you know 32 schools and colleges. Two day inspections. 
CJ: I'm interested in how the schools, responded to Ofsted turning up and asking these questions in particular some of the schools, from the everyone's invited website some of the prestigious independent schools are not schools that Ofsted would normally inspect so were were we welcomed with open arms? 
AT: Good question. I mean, as we always are Chris. No, I mean though, there was a point in here where I think particularly schools that had already been either in the limelight, had headlines about this, their schools because they've been named and Everyone's Invited some of them were expecting us anyway. And actually, I think some of them really wanted to showcase the positive work they have been doing saying look, you know, we've we're taking this seriously. We've been speaking to governors we can speak to parents, we've been getting the voices of the children and really proactively addressing this issue. And also here's what else we need to do and here's what else we'd like support with from the government. So, actually, by and large, people were nervous but you know proactive and we really did emphasise that it was a research visit, we weren't going there to inspect so I think that helped to calm any nerves.

CJ: And it struck me that there was a real disconnect between the prevalence, that the girls and boys, were talking about basically saying, this happens all the time to everybody I know, it's, it's so routine that we don't really speak up about it, even though we don't really see much wrong with it and some of the some of the boys were talking a disconnect between that and what the adults would talk about. I know from from talking to adults about this that our findings were a real surprise. 
AT: And I think that's the thing we knew there was a problem. Did we know how much. No, actually, and it was really quite shocking the level of what just how commonplace and how normalise some of the behaviours were to children, young people so that they would say, well, there's no point in us reporting this because it happens all the time. And I thought that was the bit I think where we started to recommend a cultural shift, even why people don't think this thing is happening in this setting, chances are it's probably happening in some level, act like it is put in place the preventative whole school approach is to shift the culture so that some of the, you know, real incidents of harmful sexual behaviour right at the end of the scale, yes they are dealt with, but ideally you'd nip some of those behaviours in the bud before they become a systemic problem in your school. This review is not representative of all children across England, but it certainly raises alarm bells. Just being able to put that in the context of what it might look like for professionals working in this area that might not really see that there's such a big problem because it doesn't surface - it just means that there's a powerful call to action I think for all of us to do this a bit better. 

CJ: Seems to me that one of the big differences between when you and I were at school and school now is, is smartphones and social media - yes only so much trouble you can get into with a Nokia 37 or whatever it was.

That's not the case now is it they're carrying around these incredibly powerful computers in their pockets and they've got access to the internet and all the horrors of of that. Just how much did that come across?
AT: So I think you've picked up something really important. I'm definitely going to date myself here and say I got my first phone in sixth form.
I'm quite glad that I just wasn't part of that but it does mean there is quite a gulf actually between professionals who are there to work with children, young people, and how much they understand the kind of pressures that are on young people and the online sexual of abuse particularly was the bit that came through, pressure to send nudes, sending out of material that you shouldn't have in the first place but just getting circulated.
So I think that is the bit that's run away with, with professionals in the area and the government, you know we did raise a recommendation here for better, the Online Safety Bill I think will go some way to address this and I know the steps are being looked at, but yeah I think it starts to blur the lines between where out of school and in school, incidents happen.

And we can see that that was, that was hard for school leaders, but many of them are really trying to proactively tackle, kind of an educated approach to making sure that children understood what acceptable and unacceptable behaviours were, because sometimes worryingly, they didn't really understand where those lines were.
CJ:  So hard to keep up, isn't it, I think we saw some of the government guidance referred to 'sexting'
AT: Yes, 
CJ: which I don't know - none of the children we spoke to knew what that was. They didn't use that word, it made everyone feel very out of touch 
AT: Yeah and I definitely had a couple of Urban Dictionary moments. But, you know, I think we owe it to the children and young people to better understand the kind of language that they are, and frame whatever guidance, in a way that addresses and meets the needs, you know, from their perspective. And you know just a note as well schools generally were following the guidance they needed to where there were incidents, couple of incidents where there wasn't the case but generally, you know, schools are working really hard in this space, but that cultural piece. I think it's time for a step change in that in that area, particularly.
CJ: it's difficult, isn't it, when if no one's talking about it is difficult to know what to do, or even know that it's happening so like you say that, that cultural thing about assuming that it's happening and trying to create that culture in which a) you reduce the likelihood of it happening as much as possible but b) that people, when things do go wrong, are able to talk about it to the right people and feel confident that the right resolution will be reached and it will be done sensitively, carefully.
AT: and I think that's the bit where schools say they feel quite lonely, actually, and more could be done, and something just to add, you know, I'll wrap this up because we'll obviously hand over to other people who've got experience in the review in this area more broadly, but this review was never meant to solve it all, but it was meant to shine a light, and I really hope that the voices, we have done justice to the voices of children and people who told us in no uncertain terms the kind of things are happening to them frequently.
So yes, thank you.
CJ: Thanks Anna. 

CJ: So I'm joined now by Wendy Ghaffar, Ofsted's specialist advisor for safeguarding. Thank you for taking some time to talk to me, obviously, talking to children was a huge part of this review can be fraught with difficulty. So how did we go about seeking children's views as part of the review? 
WG: So we felt that the most important aspect of this review was hearing the voices of children hearing about their experiences. And what we did was we designed a focus group for different ages of children, so we had questions and activities that were geared and aimed at different age groups. We brought children together in a focus group in all of the schools that we visited, we decided to have a single sexed focus groups, and that worked really well and we also spoke to some existing groups in schools, for example, groups of LGBTQ plus children. So in all we spoke to 900 children. And we hope that the children's views and experiences are really well represented in the review I think they bring real depth and meaning to this review. They have very strong views about what was happening to them. They were clear about the fact that they felt that adults don't understand their experiences. I think that is a really important learning point because I think some adults might be reluctant to talk to children about these issues. But actually if you do that in the right way and think about how you're going to do that, we found children were eager to discuss what are difficult and sensitive subjects but, but something that's actually affecting their daily lives. 
CJ: So having, having found the right way to speak to children on the review, and as you say speak to quite a lot of them, what did we find what were children saying about their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse?
WG: I think the main finding of the review is that children are experiencing sexual harassment and abuse, especially online abuse, far more frequently than adults, realise, and I think another really important message is that we found this across every school that we visited. And so, 64% of girls said that unwanted touching sexual touching was happening a lot or sometimes. 80% of girls said that unwanted or inappropriate sexual comments were happening a lot or sometimes. And 79% said that sexual assault of any kind, was happening, sometimes or a lot. And the other thing that children said consistently was the adults, including teachers really didn't understand the reality of children's lives, and what they were experiencing on a day to day basis. They describe teachers as being out of date. And generally what we found when we talked to teachers, leaders, staff in schools, was that their perception of what was happening was quite different, generally, to children's experiences. I'm just going to give you one example of what we found in one school. So in this particular school children said that what they termed slut shaming and body shaming so in other words, constant sexualized comments particularly about girls bodies, and talking about other children in a sexualized way was really common, but partiular school said that to us, to inspectors, that that mainly happened outside of the school and one member of staff actually went too far to say there was mutual respect between children in the school. The leaders seem to be much more aware and they described what they called a rugby culture that needed addressing but I think this illustrates that disconnect between what children were saying to us, and what staff were saying was happening. In terms of that sort of sexualized language so terms like slag and slut, children said that was commonplace, as was homophobic language, and many children said that staff, either weren't aware of the language that was happening. Some dismissed it as 'banter' almost minimising it, and others were not prepared to tackle it.
We also found that children themselves weren't were generally not prepared to tackle either inappropriate sexualized behaviour or language that they saw - they didn't have the confidence to do that. And in some cases some of the boys tended to refer to use of such language as a joke or banter.

Another issue that was coming to light was the issue of sexual harassment happening in unsupervised spaces in schools, including for example on corridors between lessons. Girls spoke of sexualized touching by boys happening in corridors, which is actually classified within the law as sexual assault, and being fearful for example of walking upstairs because of the fear of upskirting. And so what this exemplifies is that schools really need to take responsibility for the space within the school, and think about places where children might feel unsafe. So one of the exercises we did do, it's an exercise that Bedfordshire University developed, was to provide children with a map of the school and to ask them about where they felt comfortable and where they felt uncomfortable. And that was a really quick way of understanding children's use of space in school, and then being able to talk to them about what made them feel uncomfortable so that that's an example of something that a school could do on a regular basis to keep an overview of what's happening in the different spaces and then to take measures to address the behaviours that are happening in those spaces and change physical spaces so that they're safer for children/

CJ: Here's Millie, speaking about her experiences at school.

M: I actually had a situation in the cafeteria once where boys shouted stuff that's along the lines of slut shaming and I kind of broke down in front of my head of year, and this was kind of the first time I properly opened up to a teacher, okay this is what's going on. At this point I've had quite bad slut-shaming and bulling of that nature for maybe a year and a half, two years, and she, she got the boy to give me a half assed apology. But there was no thought to, Millie looks really upset, maybe she should have sort of a talk with a counsellor at least, or maybe just like a little side conversation to follow up. How are you feeling, and I don't really understand why that was never given a second thought because I think that's kind of basic training, I don't know. And lots of things happen like that. Teachers telling you to, if I wanted to stay after class at all, when they noticed that I wasn't doing homework or being as productive. And that never  being followed up.So there's just a lot of missed opportunities, I think, and that's how my school handled my situation was missed opportunities and not really caring.

WG: I think what's most concerning about this is that many children and young people saw this behaviour as so commonplace. They just saw it as part of life, and girls spoke spoke about boys being persistent when asking for images. One child said they wouldn't take no for an answer. And another said that boys would create multiple accounts to harass you, if you don't send them an image. Another child spoke of girls being contacted 10 or 11 times a night by different boys asking for nude images. So there's something about the frequency of this happening, the fact that it seemed to be so common, and the persistence, in terms of pressure being put on children, to share nude images. Some of this activity happened outside of school, but clearly it had a really negative impact on children, and it has a significant impact on the normalisation of harmful sexual behaviour and unhealthy cultures in school, and we saw some of the evidence of this in primary schools, for example, children watching pornography, outside of school, or looking at inappropriate images on social media, and then that problem being brought into the school and having an impact on different children. And girls were frustrated about the lack of teaching about this issue in particular, and they felt they needed real support.

CJ: Some really shocking things you've described, and some really some really vivid examples that were given to us by the children we spoke to, when given the opportunity to talk about these things and given the right environment children will come forward and will talk as they clearly did to to our inspectors when we gave them the opportunity, but in general is it not fair to say that children are reluctant to talk about these issues they choose not to speak out and why do you think that is?

WG: There were a range of reasons. Sometimes it's because they feel nothing will be done. Sometimes they had seen that other children have reported issues and nothing, no action was taken. Some children said that it was so commonplace that they didn't see any point in reporting what was happening. Some children were fearful that they wouldn't be believed, a really strong theme that came out, what would happen to their reputation, their reputation in the school and with their peers, and the social consequences - so there was a real sense that in some peer groups, they might be called a snitch, by talking about their peers that that could lead to them being ostracised or bullied, and there's a quote from, from a child which I think is quite, quite powerful. And this child said, sometimes if you report something in school, everybody quickly knows about it. A teacher takes you out of the lesson, and everyone's like, what's that about, when you come back into the classroom. So that sense that even if you're being assured that this information won't be shared or it will be kept confidential, that was quite difficult to do so in a school environment.

CJ: There's clearly a really complex and difficult set of problems here and issues that are deeply embedded into culture and society and it's incumbent on I think quite a lot of us involved in safeguarding in education, to play our part in in tackling this and we'll come to some of the other partners and the Ofsted inspection role in a bit but let's start with schools. What can schools, specifically do to start to address this?

WG: So, absolutely, in the review we acknowledge that schools can't deal with this issue on their own and that I think that's a really important point. But obviously there are some really significant things that schools can do. We found that schools were tending to deal with incidents of sexual violence for example that come to their attention, as, as we would expect and as required. But many schools seem to have an incident driven approach. So we're asking for a much wider cultural shift in schools and some schools are doing this well but a cultural recognition of what's required to tackle sexual harassment and abuse. So one of one example of that would be identifying inappropriate behaviours, very early on, and preventing them from escalating and ensuring that schools are keeping really good records and analysing patterns and trends and in that way, hopefully they can identify issues early, they can intervene and apply the appropriate approach. Now that might be a behavioural approach, it might be sanctions, and it may be in some situations that children themselves who are perpetrating sexual harassment or abuse have actually experienced that themselves, and a safeguarding approach is required so we have to remember here we're talking about children that have different levels of harmful sexual behaviour, and depending on the particular behaviour the context, details of the incident. There may need to be safeguarding approach. 

WG: Schools need to create an environment where talking about relationships, that's healthy relationships, as well as inappropriate relationships is the norm, and that children feel okay and relaxed about talking to teachers about these issues. So engaging with children in small group discussions, we found that works well and we know that some schools are doing this. We did have some girls telling us that teachers made inappropriate comments to them about their appearance. So clearly there needs to be a culture in school where there's clear expectations around staff conduct and behaviour, and also that staff routinely tackle inappropriate behaviour and language and create that culture, where children expect and can be assured they will be safe, and that it's safe to tackle sexual harassment and abuse. 

CJ: So there are definite steps that schools can take, and I think there'll be, there'll be no schools anywhere that has got this completely cracked and can't make any improvement so hopefully everyone will be able to take something from what you've just said Wendy. But obviously schools don't operate in isolation, they're part of a wider system of safeguarding and it's incumbent on everybody in that system isn't it to play their part to the full. What did we find out in the review about those safeguarding partners?

WG:So, we decided to speak to local safeguarding partners in 12 local areas. So, as you may well know they, the local safeguarding partners are the key statutory mechanism if you like for agreeing how relevant agencies in each local area work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, including schools, but we found a mixed picture really across local areas, we found that some local safeguarding partners were doing some really good work and I'll come on to talk about that in a minute, but not all of them had oversight of issues of sexual harassment and violence in schools, in their local area. 
Some of the local safeguarding partners felt that the guidance that the government has put in place doesn't make clear enough the responsibility of schools to engage with local safeguarding partners, but also we found that some schools said to us that it was quite difficult for them to engage with local safeguarding partners so clearly there are some issues here that need addressing. And I think particularly for schools and colleges that take pupils in from different localities different local areas that can be a real challenge because they're dealing with, or having to work with different local safeguarding partners. So we made some recommendations to the government here about making the guidance much clearer about the way in which schools and local safeguarding partners need to work together. And we did see some examples of where this was working well I'll just give you a couple of examples. One was where local safeguarding partners were bringing together, designated safeguarding leads from different schools to talk about safeguarding issues to share practice as well as issues they were attempting to address, and that gave a forum for them to learn from each other, to share information, but it also meant that the local safeguarding partners had a sense of which schools might need some additional support. But I think what's clear, and what we're seeing in the review is there's no single agency that can tackle this issue alone. This is a really wide issue across society, and it needs government, it needs parents and carers, it needs agencies that work with children, including schools to work together really effectively to prevent sexual violence and harassment, and to reduce the risk. 

CJ: We've heard from Wendy there, and we're joined now by John Kennedy, our assistant Regional Director in London. So John, you're one of our senior inspectors, tell us a little bit about how we inspect safeguarding. 
JK: I think it's important to say, at the start that the focus of inspectors is on how well leaders and other staff have created a culture of safeguarding where pupils welfare is promoted and where timely and appropriate safeguarding action is taken, for those who need extra help or are likely to be suffering harm. So I think one of the things that inspectors will always do is to take into account any relevant concerns that have been raised about a school in advance of the inspection. So for example if there had been concerns that had been raised by parents or other members of the public or whoever, about a particular school around the area of sexual violence and harassment, inspectors will have that information in advance of the inspection. But during the inspection itself, inspectors will need to consider and discuss with leaders, for example the records they hold, and any analysis that they've undertaken regarding incidents of sexual violence and harassment. Inspectors will also speak to a range of different people during inspection. I just want to kind of highlight some of them there's always a danger you leave people out but they will talk to leaders, especially the designated safeguarding lead about any pupils who may be in need of help and support because of safeguarding concerns, and they will look at what support has been provided for those pupils, either internally by the school, or through working with other partners such as health, social care or the police. Inspectors will also want to look at examples of how well this has been done by looking at records as well as having discussions with leaders about what action they've taken, they'll also want to speak to governors about their role in ensuring that the school meets its safeguarding duties, inspectors will speak to staff at all levels, about their understanding of what's expected of them. And they'll also want to speak to leaders about aspects of the curriculum that Wendy referred to, which helps pupils learn about healthy and respectful relationships. But the most important group of people that inspectors will speak to are pupils, and they will do that informally, or in groups, and they'll talk about their experiences and learning, how safe they feel and act, what action is taken, if they do have concerns, and what support is in place, where they have raised concerns with staff, that's a fundamental part of our inspection practice.
And you can see from the review that that was a key element in the in the evidence that we were able to gather. 

CJ: And we've heard during the course of our conversations that children are not usually especially comfortable discussing these issues, and your inspectors come along and they are strangers that are not members of the school community. So how can inspectors tell when something is wrong, when they're speaking to a group of children is it a sixth sense that they have or is it something that they're looking for?

JK: Inspectors do have that sense of when people pupils are uncomfortable having a discussion about something or for that matter when staff are, but I think it's, it's quite important for inspectors to, to have a discussion with pupils where it's somewhat general about concerns that pupils face rather than focusing on a particular pupils experience, you can normally tell if there are issues which may require further exploration when pupils are talking about incidences, or examples where they don't feel safe.

Unknown 30:52
And this, this, you know, sometimes it's about their experience in the school setting. And in that case I think what you've got to do is make sure that if specific concerns are raised, that they are brought to the attention of the designated safeguarding lead. And the same would apply when staff raise concerns, you need to be insured as an inspector, because those concerns are being followed through. The other area where we do often get concerns is through pupil staff or parental surveys, because that's sometimes there's a way of pupils or parents, for example, or staff for that matter, sharing concerns in a quasi confidential way and inspectors, while they won't investigate those concerns, will look at the pattern that's emerging and have discussions with leaders about that. The Department for Education have updated their statutory guidance, keeping children safe in education to reflect the findings of Ofsted's review, and I think it's really important that schools and colleges understand those changes that have been made, because they do take effect from the beginning of September. 

CJ: The children involved in these incidents affected by some of the things we've been talking about, presuming this is quite destabilising for them, distressing, and must be a real effort on the part of schools to help them through that, but also to help them with their learning as well and continue concentrating in the classroom. Thanks John. Millie again. 

M: In my personal experience, there was a lot of signs like with work I wasn't as productive in class, or with homeworks or outside, and I wasn't myself. I just, I feel like that my teachers never brought up on that, and then also in classes kind of inappropriate touching by boys, and comments that I felt were never really taken seriously. And that I think ties into the whole mental health thing, because it was a very obvious sign, and it was never really approached, or kind of given any second thought, in a classroom setting, which I feel like is half the job of a teacher really. Half is education, but you also have to think about that these kids are growing up in your school, and you want them to leave with the best kind of head on them to go into the adult world. But I think there are, you can't expect your friends to help with an emotional, mental health thing, because they only know what they know and that's basically what you know and you're all the same age. 

This has been Ofsted talks you can find those on PodBean, Twitter, or the Ofsted gov.uk page. Thanks to all our contributors to this episode of Ofsted Talks, thanks for listening.


In conversation with Amanda Spielman and Chris Russell

In conversation with Amanda Spielman and Chris Russell

August 27, 2021

Introducing the new Ofsted podcast, 'Ofsted Talks'. This is the pilot episode.  

Chris Jones discusses with Amanda Spielman and Chris Russell the impact of the pandemic on children and schools, as well as Chris Russell's ambitions for his new position as National Director for Education. 


CJ – Chris Jones

AS – Amanda Spielman

CR – Chris Russell

CJ: Hi everybody and welcome to the Ofsted podcasts ‘Ofsted Talks’. This is the first episode in our new venture and it's one that we're all very excited about. My name is Chris Jones. I'm the Director of Corporate Strategy at Ofsted, and I'll be hosting most of these podcasts, along with Anna Trethewey, our Head of Strategy. Anna couldn't be with us today, but we'll see her in the next episode. I've got with me. Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Hello Amanda.


AS: Hello Chris.


CJ: And I've also got with me, Chris Russell, who is currently Regional Director for South East region but about to take on a new challenge as National Director of Education. Hello Chris.


CR: Hello Chris.


CJ: Very pleased to have both of you with us on this pilot episode an experiment for all of us, we'll see how it goes.


CJ: We're going to talk a bit about COVID and the impact of the pandemic on children and on schools and other education providers. We're going to talk a bit about both the areas of concern that we've picked up, but also any upsides of lockdown for children and families, and we're also going to talk a bit about inspections, and what inspections might look like post COVID. And why inspection is important post COVID. So, Chris, I'm going to turn to you first, I mentioned your new role as National Director of Education. Tell us a bit about why you wanted to take on that challenge, and what you think you'll be letting yourself in for in the first few months.


CR: Yeah, thanks Chris. I mean, I guess I do know what I'm letting myself in for because I had the opportunity during the pandemic to cover the role for five months when Sean Halford who's our current national director was seconded to the COVID taskforce, so that was obviously a very interesting time that was between September and January so obviously a lot going on in terms of the pandemic, and a big focus at that time was shaping our work to do very different things at that time, in terms of what kind of inspection and wider work. So very interesting time, I really enjoyed it actually; really enjoyed working with the team; excellent colleagues in the, in the directorate. So really looking forward to I mean what's great about the job I think is it sits so centrally in Ofsted as an organisation all that policy work, all that developmental work around our inspection across the education remits, you know you're very much at the centre of that, you know, as I say working with a fantastic bunch of people actually within the Directorate who, who will work on all of those things. So, I'm really looking forward to that. It's obviously a great opportunity to, I think within that role to have external engagement with the sector and I really enjoyed doing that during that period. And that will be a really strong focus for me. But also you know I've been a regional director before that an inspector but a regional director now for I think six or seven years. So, I'll also bring into that, all that sort of experience of kind of inspection delivery working with inspectors who are out there doing the inspection. I'm also looking forward to kind of, you know, drawing on that and keeping those really close links you know with inspection and with inspection delivering, with our inspectors, you know, as I as I go into the role.


CJ: Fantastic, well I'm convinced, you can have the job.


CR: Thanks Chris.


CJ: We'll stick with you, Chris. Our first topic conversation. We're going to talk about what we found when we did visits during the autumn of, 2020 When we did a series of visits to all different types of providers, which were non-judgmental, but which allowed us to report back on what was happening in the sector, and report back to government, to parents, to schools and colleges. Can you tell us a bit about what was going on at that time? What did we find, what were some of the concerns that we highlighted?


CR: Yeah, I mean clearly that was a, you know, a very interesting time where you because we, we just had a number of months where the vast majority of children were out of school and from September obviously schools, largely opened up, although as we all know that there was quite an impact in terms of pupils being sent, sent home, etc. So, you know at that point very much we saw the impact of disruption in schooling from sort of march through to September. And, you know, we were also, you know, looking at the way in which schools were trying to get back to normal and actually get underneath the learning loss that had happened and how they might actually enable pupils to catch up. I think what it showed us more than anything else because, you know, it was a very interesting few months actually enabling us to get underneath all of that which fed into the thematic reports that we produced during that period. And what it did show us if we needed to be shown I think was the absolute importance of, of children being in school. And what children had missed by not being in school during that period. And of course, you know schools had put in place remote learning and I think, you know schools were finding their feet with that during that period from March to September, and what we were seeing there was that, you know, that practice it evolved from very little really to schools actually making a much better job of remote learning where they needed to but, but actually clearly the recognition that it's much better if, if children are in school. So, you know we saw all of that really and it gave us a bit of a window on that kind of learning loss and what, what the effect that been on pupils during that period when they really were out of school. And I think, you know, leaders, then and probably still now, you know, still getting underneath that and still, you know, achieving an understanding of that really but it was certainly, you know, very apparent the impact of that I mean, you know, very broadly to, you know, in the early years, for example we saw some real impact on some of those basic things for younger children around, you know, fine and gross motor skills, some of the things around personal development and socialisation. Clearly, there's been a significant impact on there. And, you know, more broadly in terms of the curriculum, while you know, pupils had made some progress with remote learning. Clearly, there are limitations there really and some pupils respond more positively to it, others find it more challenging and clearly there are elements of the curriculum that are much more difficult to deliver. In that way, and we really saw the impact of that and I've always been very keen musician, it's been very apparent to me during this the impact on music and the difficulties and actually, young people playing together musically. So, you know, some of those broader things we really, really saw the impact of that, I mean more widely as well clearly what we saw there was a real impact on transition that really important transition when pupils move from primary to secondary school. Clearly, that didn't happen in the normal way and you know you really feel for those young people if they've had that schools made the best attempt they could, at supporting people through that transition. But it wasn't the normal process for them. So, we saw a whole range of the impact of that really during those visits at that time, and obviously after that what we did have was a period again of disruption from January onwards where most pupils again were out of school. And while schools had done a lot to develop remote learning. And what we saw in the visits that we did in, in spring, virtual visits actually, in spring. Was that remote learning had moved on, there's clearly no doubt that that's not the same as people as being in school. So, you know there is that ongoing learning loss that peoples have experienced from that period.


CJ: Amanda, Chris has given us a really good summary of what we found on those visits from the autumn. This was at a point when inspections were suspended, and we didn't have that normal flow of information coming through to us. Why did you want us to be out there doing these visits, why did you think that was important?


AS: Ofsted is such a key source of information from the ground, and getting beyond the anecdotal because, yes, there are great many anecdotes that flow through here or there, But our work, setting up a programme that looks at a good balanced sample across the country, people in difficult circumstances; people who are coping well really helps get the national perspective, and helps put all those anecdotes in proportion. So, I really wanted us to be doing that to be that pair of eyes that could help pick up and put together the big the bigger picture that could really help everybody focus on the right things for children.


CJ: And we know that it was, it was hugely helpful to government, for example in planning their policy response to the pandemic to know what was happening in those in those providers.


AS: I think it was, and I think, particularly the fact that we were able to do a series of rapid reports we didn't just save it all up for blockbuster at the end, we really worked on our teams to get as much out of the evidence we collected as quickly as we could to publish a series of monthly commentaries, and I think that was a really flexible and responsive way to approach the task.


CJ: Chris, let's talk about a couple more specifics in terms of what we found as a throughout the period of lockdown. There was rightly quite a lot of concern about children with special educational needs and disabilities around disadvantaged children who perhaps didn't have either the kind of access to education through your online systems or what didn't have the kind of family support structures and family environment that made education work in the home, tell us a bit about what we found, for those groups of vulnerable children.


CR: Yeah, I mean there's no doubt that, you know, clearly there's been an impact there for all children and young people but, but some children young people have been particularly affected by that. And one group of pupils with SEND, with special educational needs, or disabilities. And what we found there was that there was a particular impact in terms of those children missing school; for a range of reasons really some of that around some of those, those young people clearly were shielding so couldn't go to school, others there were problems of transport, in others, the schools we're trying to, were struggling to sort of manage to deal with, with some of those young people's particular needs. So, you know that there is a particular challenge around attendance at school which was particularly affected with that group of pupils. But actually, more broadly than that as well there was a there was an impact on some of those support services which is so crucial for many of those young people. So, a loss of speech and language therapy for example of a loss of occupational therapy or physiotherapy in many cases, those support services were badly disrupted, and even when some of those support services started to go back sometimes, they were some of those services were done virtually which clearly is not as the same, not the same as, as having that face to face. So, we've seen particular impact there. And also, when pupils have returned to school. In some cases, the curriculum that that's been offered or is being offered is not as broad as it previously was so some opportunities have been lost, some opportunities for example for community learning for going out and doing things in the community have been affected by the by the pandemic. And as you also say Chris, you know, that disadvantaged peoples in many cases have been particularly affected by this period, because so much during the period of lockdown and a period of disruption has been dependent on whether it's been remote learning on people's helping young people. And while many of those disadvantaged pupils have been prioritised and have been in school during this period, and actually some of them have benefited from that and the smaller classes and the, the more individual attention. Not all have so many have missed out and maybe have been a bit at home and haven't been able to benefit fully from remote learning, so have particular gaps in their knowledge and understanding.


CJ: Amanda we've been talking recently, haven't we, about the system of support for children with SEND. We've published a couple of reports recently that build on the findings that Chris was talking about from our work doing that during the period of lockdown. What are your impressions of how the system is support children with SEND is at the moment, um, what do you think the government in that SEND review should be thinking about?


AS: SEND; It's so obviously one of the area's that's already suffered during the pandemic and for fairly obvious reasons for many children, it doesn't seem to be impossible to give them the services on which they and their families so depend. So,  see seeing so much of the in person support melting away for the duration has been really, really tough for children and their families against that we have heard from a minority of children, perhaps sometimes children with very particular kinds of special needs some social difficulties that it's actually been helpful for them to have the quiet, the peace, of working from home, I'm not saying that this is an absolute universal blanket finding, but it's clear that on balance it's been there's been a really big loss to children and young people with SEND, it has been a big problem. And I think it's focused people's minds, very much on what it is that we actually need to make schoolwork for those children and to help them get as much in the way of education, and as much social development to really make sure it's a good experience all round.


CJ: You've made the point. During the last 12 months so that's the, the pandemic didn't impact purely disadvantaged children, actually there were lots of effects that were perhaps counterintuitive, such as motivation, being a real factor in whether children learned.


AS: It's so interesting because everybody who works in our sectors is so accustomed to thinking about the labels that we all use as shorthand for various kinds of disadvantage, free school meals, Pupil Premium SEND, ESL and so on. And we tend to assume that the various kinds of problem, and disadvantage and underachievement will line up quite well with those labels, and of course what we saw here was something that didn't line up neatly at all. Sometimes, it was about families, it was about whether the parents were working inside or outside the home and the effect that had on the amount of time they could spend with children on remote education. Sometimes it was about things like just like having younger siblings. If you've got a parent at home but you've also got a toddler and a baby in the house, those parents just cannot spend as much time on helping the seven-year-old, as a family where there's just seven-year-old, and the motivation piece came through, so strongly, and few people listen to this can't have heard stories of teenagers just have slumped in their bedrooms, not really able to summon the energy to get out of bed and such depressing stories. And that cuts right across the sexes social class, every dimension, and we heard from so many places about children who just couldn't be motivated and that added up to a substantial minority who really didn't get involved in remote education when we were another, or not to any serious extent so there's a slice of children who, what are some children of motored, we know there's a bigger slice of children who have really struggled.


CJ: We've talked a lot about the concerns that we, that we've reported on over the last 12 months or so. Amanda you mentioned some of the positives for children with SEND, some children with SEND, who will have enjoyed working at home and in relative peace and quiet.


AS: It's clear from every survey and study I've seen that there is a subset of children who enjoyed being at home, whose parents enjoyed teaching with them, I think, I think there are parents out there who have discovered their inner teacher and some of those actually want to carry on with it, carry on home educating indefinitely but I think there's a bigger group of parents who are pretty happy to be handing back to teachers. I know that there are, there are some parents who have decided to carry on through this year who we think we're likely to see the children coming back into school in September, is all a bit uncertain actually quite how many children have shifted to the home education blind for good. It's one of those things we will we're just waiting to see come September.


CJ: It was interesting, wasn't it to see the difference between the first lockdown the kind of spring, summer 2020 lockdown, and the second period of school closure in terms of the impact on parents actually and speaking to the parents in in my team. Whilst in the first lockdown, they were trying to keep the kids entertained but didn't have much schoolwork to give them by the second lockdown, they were kind of inundated with online learning and worksheets and various things to doing it became a full time job in itself being a parent of a, of a child in lockdown, Chris, that was something you mentioned in terms of the difference between the first and the second lockdown in terms of the kind of breadth and depth of the remote learning offer that was out there.


CR: I think that's very true Chris actually I mean; I think we have to remember that we're going back to March, April, you know, suddenly we're in lockdown and school was really pretty much from nowhere where we're, we're kind of inventing their own remote learning in most cases and finding their way with it and sharing what they've learned with it you know other school leaders and so on to develop that practice. And we really saw that I think we went out in spring, and because if you remember there in early January. The schools were again close the majority of pupils and we did some remote monitoring inspection work during that period. And that really enabled us to have a window on what schools are done with remote learning we, we certainly saw that as you say crazy in some cases, that certainly did up the expectation on parents I think some parents realise the challenges of teaching and of managing young people in their learning. But certainly, you know, we really saw, we didn't really see the development of that remote learning practice. I mean while, you know, as we've said we all acknowledge that's not the same as being in school, and actually it's a very personal thing for young people really, those that can engage well and be motivated learning remotely and others that find that really difficult I think that's really, really sort of personal thing. But at least you know, through that development and we hope that schools won't have to close again like that, but I think what schools have learned there will surely be helpful for young people. For example, you might be off ill or whatever, and actually can have a better education when they're not in school, but absolutely, what we found this, you know, whatever schools have done and I think they, they worked really hard to and some did extremely well, to develop that remote learning. It's not the same as having children in school.


AS: Yes, I agree with what Chris has said, and, of course, children don't know what they might have started doing if they'd been in school, and some of the children who were perfectly happy at home may nevertheless have missed out on some plays and football, some new activities that they didn't know they'd be interested in that, they haven't been able to try because school hasn't been it hasn't been open for them to work to offer them. So, it's, I don't think we should get too comfortable this whole the wider development exposing children to things that aren't on the home radar is such an important part of what the education system does.


CR: Yeah and I mean I don't want to get too anecdotal but I mean speaking recently to a piano teacher near to me who does you know after school piano lessons and so he was saying how A) how many pupils dropped out during the pandemic, and B) how few young people have started taking lessons during that period. So I think some of those broader educational experiences and I mentioned music earlier and do so again really you really worried for the kind of legacy of that on what young people have missed out.


AS: I think a lot of parents have really started to admire teachers for what they do. And to understand quite how much skill goes into teaching a teaching a class and getting real educational progress and one mother friend of mine who's got a child at primary school has said that she's not sure that her relationship with her daughter is ever going to recover.


CJ: So, we talked about the fact that despite some heroic efforts on the parts of teachers and also parents and children, of course, there will have been learning time loss and there will have been things that we would have expected children to know and to be able to do. But they can't, as a result of, of the various periods of school closure and remote learning. So, how do you, Amanda, think that children are going to catch up to where they should be.


AS: Catch up is a really difficult concept because, first of all I know it's not a term that everybody is comfortable with, but parents seem to like it, and to find it an easy and understandable way to think about it, so please will listeners who aren't comfortable with the term bear with me. But when we talk about catch up, there's an implication that we know what the baseline is, and of course COVID hit suddenly in the middle of a school year, we don't have a national level, we've got a pretty good handle on where children on average would have been, but that doesn't translate into a good understanding, a really good understanding, at pupil level or even at school level, of where everybody would have been. So it's very important not just to assume that there's a nice of catch up scale that can be imposed on every single child that says, You've caught up, you haven't, it's a much subtler thing than that. But pretty much every child has lost some of the teaching they would have had, and some have with school parent helps managed never that nevertheless to really sort of deeply learn everything we would have done, but for many more, they either haven't got things at all, or there are chunks missing or chunks that they're pretty superficial with. So catch up is actually about picking up and really understanding what are the pieces that haven't been learned to have only been partly learnt, and really making sure that schools work well from that point to consolidate what's in strength and what's there to add the pieces that are to really build a strong foundations for educational progress going forward. It's not something that you can simply point and say, now do catch up. It's about really good diagnosis, teaching from where children are and recognising that the patterns of what children have and don't have will be somewhat different from usual so it's got to be about taking children forward with really clear focus on what they need to get them ready for the next step in a way that that won't leave them with horrible hidden weaknesses that could trip them up in the next stage.


CJ: It sounds like you're talking about things that are fundamental to education in normal times as well, you're really clear and productive use of assessment. Very well thought through sequenced and planned curriculum. Is that Is that what you think that they capture answers about you, Chris.


CR: Yeah, I mean I think this absolutely echo everything that Amanda has said there, and I think this really highlights actually, the importance of unclearly was important before but even more now the importance of having clarity about your curriculum and the structure of your curriculum. And those really key elements that pupils absolutely have got to have, Like I say it was important before but it's even more important now so you know, for schools to have that and have that understanding of, you know where then the pupils because of the impact of the pandemic, I've got gaps in that and to work at ensuring that those, those kind of key curricular building blocks are strong for those young people.


AS: And I think what makes it a bit harder for teachers is probably that, that the pattern of things that children do well on and things that children struggle with is probably a little bit different when so many of missed teaching in the classroom, some of the harder concepts that with, with good teaching you can get all children to grasp and do well on quite quickly are probably things that, that have disproportionately suffered during COVID. So they're probably dealing with slightly different patterns of gaps and difficulty from usual.


CJ: Where does that leave us with tutoring them, So lots of schools will be using tutors in order to help children catch up in fact it's one of the government's aims is to get as many schools as possible using tutors but it sounds like from what from what you're saying, Amanda, it sounds like schools would need to be very careful about how they use tutors in order to make sure that they're teaching the right things.


AS: Very definitely tutoring. Tutoring has some great strengths, but it's got to be well integrated with the curriculum that the children are being taught, and it can be really good for reinforcement and practice for children who just need that extra bit of time to consolidate and strengthen concepts to that to the level of other others in their class, it can be very good for filling in gaps where children have missed chunks of schooling that others. It's obviously used in normal times, a lot where children have got a particular objective, they need to meet; a grade for a university course or an 11 Plus test that a parent wants them to wants them to do well in. But in this context, it really should be about tying in well with curriculum so that all children, even the ones who've come for this to drift get back into the range of the normal teaching in the normal classroom as quickly as possible because that's the most efficient and the most motivating way for most for most children actually is to being in a classroom with their peers with a good teacher, who really knows their subject.


CJ: You mentioned exam grades there. Give us your, your take on the last couple of years in terms of how exam grades have been issued.


AS: What a bumpy ride, it's been for us all. I think what we've really learned going through a second year of an alternative to act two exams is quite how difficult it is to construct an alternative that satisfies young people that they can really show what they can do and that it's fair that people who might have thought that were easy alternatives to exams, probably know that any alternative is just as complicated.
But I think a great deal of effort has gone in by teachers and many others to try and make sure that we've got something that's as good as it can be in these very difficult circumstances. It's not perfect. I think it's important that everybody understands it's not perfect, but it is a genuine attempt to give children something that reflects what they've learned what they're capable of learning and sets them up for the next stage.


CJ: Chris the last few things we talked about tutoring and exams, clearly have implications for how we inspect schools once we go back to inspection. In September, what will inspection look like in September when we aren't able to rely on, up to date, exam results and we've got to take account of mass tutoring and all sorts of other catch-up interventions what impact you think that we'll have.


CR: Yeah, I mean, I mean first of all, perhaps just to say something generally about that about that sort of process of returning to, you know fully normal routine inspections on, and it's felt very much like a long journey that because way back from April through the autumn term through the spring term, we totally changed what we're doing, and I think that was absolutely the right thing for the time is actually. What that enabled us to do in Autumn was appropriately given the particular challenges then that schools were facing in reopening up at cetera, was that we visited schools we didn't make that normal evaluation, but we were really able to capture the process that schools had gone through during lockdown and, and as they as they returned back to fit more face-to-face teaching. And then, as we went into spring term, although working virtually we introduced that element of evaluation, back into our work but very much monitoring focused on schools that were weak is going into the pandemic. But we very much, you know, felt and feel that the best thing that we can do as an organisation in terms of supporting the process of recovery is our normal inspection process and that's what we're working through this term in a kind of process of transition to be, to be able to do that fully in September. So, you know we do feel that our normal inspection tools were absolutely right for before the pandemic and they're absolutely right for now. Our education inspection framework we spent a long time developing enormous amount of engagement with the sector, to ensure that we were really getting it right and ensuring that can have the most the most impact. We only did it for about seven months of course and then we were locked down but what we saw during that period was the impact of it, the value of it, the very positive way in which the sector received it and we absolutely you know are finding that as we as we move back to that this term. That doesn't mean we don't need to make tweaks and we have made some tweaks to it to ensure that it reflects COVID and the particular challenges of COVID and actually we've already put our revised handbook for September on our website so people can see that already, but we did feel that we didn't need to make enormous changes to it we did feel that at its core, you know, it absolutely gets underneath education it focuses on the quality of education, there's a strong focus on the curriculum. And we therefore think it's actually the right tool for when you know our schools are returning to normal and are dealing with people who may have lost learning, etc. So, I think the real value of the education inspection framework is that strong focus on quality of education and particularly that strong focus on curriculum planning, which is going to be more important than ever. So, you know we're confident that we've put a lot of thought into this and a lot of piloting. We're confident that our education frameworks framework is absolutely the right thing for now and thought for routine inspection going forward.


CJ: No doubt there'll be some relieved, school leaders annotate inspectors and not having to read an entirely new post COVID inspection handbook.


CR: Absolutely and we we've listed all the changes but as people will see, you know, on the whole, they are really minor tweaks to the framework.


AS: I'll come in here because it's, It's really worth saying I think that the schools and colleges I visited this term, and the people I've talked to; a message that's come, come to me really strongly as you are keeping the EIF, aren't you, people have been wanting that right that reassurance that it's not being tossed out of the window, both because it's good and because it because people have had enough. Enough change going on many fronts that the continuity and clarity is really welcome, I think.


CR: But clearly, really important that we tested it to make sure that we were being fair, and you know we did a lot of piloting to ensure that that was the case. And actually we've although we've particularly focused on our normal monitoring visits to  schools, graded requires improvement or inadequate, this term in quite a few cases, we've converted those inspections to full inspections, And you know, improved the grades of those schools and, and really tested out that full inspection methodology and found that it works well and obviously great news for those schools that despite the challenges of COVID, they've still managed to make that improvement, either out of inadequate or from requires improvement to good.


CJ: Yeah, that's great. They've been able to be recognised for that. Amanda, more broadly, we talked about Ofsted being a force for improvement in the system. Some people will say, post COVID Ofsted should just leave us alone, to get on with it talk to us a bit about how you see inspection as being part of how the system improves.


AS: I think there are at least three ways that we really are a force for improvement and getting those back online matters so much. First and foremost, children have just one chance at education. So, the idea of us, not doing our job, not helping to make sure that every child is getting an experience as good as it can be that really matters. But there are two other things I'd like to say on top. The first of which is, we've redesigned inspection, in a way that puts significantly more emphasis on making sure that the process is valuable for the people at the receiving end, that they come away from inspection thinking that conversation, that dialogue was helpful, that it's helped us think through what we should be doing differently, that it's worth the effort involved. And the third piece is that we've thought a lot more about the insights we can give from all the work we do, how we can draw out of inspection, the kinds of insight that help the sector, that help government think differently about what they do make choices that then circle back around and improve and broaden the experience that children get, and at the end of the day it's all about making that experience as good as it can possibly be.


CJ: Thanks very much to Amanda Spielman, Her Majesties Chief Inspector and to Chris Russell, new incoming National Director for Education. This has been ‘Ofsted Talks’ you can find us on Podbean, Twitter, or the Ofsted gov.uk page. In future we hope to have guests from outside Ofsted to have really good thorough intense discussions about issues like exclusions, prison education, social care and many more. And thanks for everyone for listening. Goodbye.


AS: Goodbye


CR: Goodbye.



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