Back to school: what you need to know about DfE and Ofsted remote learning expectations

London CLC’s Peter Lillington sets out how to meet the DfE’s remote learning requirements – and how we can help.

When we posted our ‘blended/hybrid’ return to school blog post  back in June, we certainly knew that a lot was likely to happen over the summer. We do hope that all school staff managed to get some rest and relaxation but we also know that, even at this early stage of the term, with the return of all or most children to school, that summer holiday period may now feel like a very long time ago. Teachers are grappling with the detailed operations of their classrooms and the needs of their pupils as well as, for many, continuing to juggle with their own family needs.

Perhaps as well as responding to the immediate needs of your own class or classes, you’ve got responsibility for digital learning or for computing as a subject and, by extension, that includes technology assisted and online learning, or perhaps you are a safeguarding lead. Perhaps you’ve just taken on this responsibility. If that’s the case, you’ll find our New to Computing Subject Leaders Course a practical help and great resource. We’ll have more on this in next week’s blog post but just to let you know that this course is also open to those who’ve had this role for a while. It’s great CPD as well as a way to gain insights from other schools’ issues and solutions.

As we’ve mentioned in our newsletter and schools are no doubt aware, there’s a DfE requirement that, by the end of September, schools have in place a remote learning plan. Although it is a responsibility for school leaders (perhaps including you), ideally all teachers can contribute as most will have gained useful information about what works well – both as a teacher and, in many cases, also as a parent helping with home learning and experiencing digital tools on the receiving end. 

In coming weeks we’ll be continuing to highlight how different schools have found successful strategies and how they are developing these in their remote and blended learning plans. We’ll also be providing you with ongoing help to meet this DfE requirement this month and beyond.

DfE expectations

In terms of DfE expectations, there are some specific points from the guidance extracted below, but it’s likely that schools will be looking more broadly at their practice, and will set the contingency plans in that context:

“In developing these contingency plans, we expect schools to:

  • Use a curriculum sequence that allows access to high-quality online and offline resources and teaching videos and that is linked to the school’s curriculum expectations.
  • Give access to high quality remote education resources.
  • Select the online tools that will be consistently used across the school in order to allow interaction, assessment and feedback and make sure staff are trained in their use.
  • Provide printed resources, such as textbooks and workbooks, for pupils who do not have suitable online access.
  • Recognise that younger pupils and some pupils with SEND may not be able to access remote education without adult support and so schools should work with families to deliver a broad and ambitious curriculum.

When teaching pupils remotely, we expect schools to:

  • Set assignments so that pupils have meaningful and ambitious work each day in a number of different subjects.
  • Teach a planned and well-sequenced curriculum so that knowledge and skills are built incrementally, with a good level of clarity about what is intended to be taught and practised in each subject.
  • Provide frequent, clear explanations of new content, delivered by a teacher in the school or through high-quality curriculum resources or videos.
  • Gauge how well pupils are progressing through the curriculum, using questions and other suitable tasks and set a clear expectation on how regularly teachers will check work.
  • Enable teachers to adjust the pace or difficulty of what is being taught in response to questions or assessments, including, where necessary, revising material or simplifying explanations to ensure pupils’ understanding.
  • Plan a programme that is of equivalent length to the core teaching pupils would receive in school, ideally including daily contact with teachers.

We expect schools to consider these expectations in relation to the pupils’ age, stage of development or special educational needs, for example where this would place significant demands on parents’ help or support. We expect schools to avoid an over-reliance on long-term projects or internet research activities.”

These expectations raise a number of questions and should be read in conjunction with the section earlier in the guidance on remote education within the curriculum section that covers four points, of which we are highlighting the fourth here:

  1. Develop remote education so that it is integrated into school curriculum planning. Remote education may need to be an essential component in the delivery of the school curriculum for some pupils, alongside classroom teaching, or in the case of a local lockdown.

Ofsted’s expectations

To add to the mix of considerations, although Ofsted suspended all routine inspections from 17 March 2020, it does have an interest in what is happening now and, as part of a phased return to inspections, will now undertake some one-day visits (not inspections) starting on 28 September.

In case you haven’t seen the details, Ofsted has explained what it will and won’t be doing if inspectors visit a school from 28 September, of which the items below are just an extract. They will be interested in understanding the impact of the period from March to now, but will not be scrutinising what actions schools took in the recent past six-month period, nor will they be observing teaching or looking at pupils’ work.

“Methodology of visits and evidence collection. Inspectors will work collaboratively with leaders to understand:

    • The barriers that the school has faced, and may still be facing, in managing the return to full education for all pupils.
    • How leaders are ensuring that pupils resume learning the school’s curriculum, including contingency planning for the use of remote education and the use of catch-up funding.
    • How pupils are settling back into expected routines and behaviour, including regular attendance.
    • How any identified and specific issues related to special educational needs, disabilities, health, care, well-being issues for particular groups of pupils are being addressed.
  • The school’s safeguarding arrangements (focusing on arrangements at the time of the visit but potentially also looking at what was in place at the start of the COVID-19 response).”

We’ve highlighted a couple of phrases where it’s clear that the digital aspect is prominent or needs to be considered (eg safeguarding arrangements have to include online safety as per KCSIE 2020), and the Ofsted paragraph links directly to the DfE guidance. The article goes on to explicitly add and link again:

“Inspectors will look at how approaches to remote learning are integrated into the wider curriculum design, and the plans leaders have in place to follow the guidance from the Department of Education.”

We would argue that although the remote learning plan is seen as a contingency, (and with Covid incidence rising again at the time of writing, perhaps a very wise contingency), developing an up-to-date blended learning plan for now, in school and out, online and offline is an essential for the ‘new normal’ whatever that is (and the remote learning plan would be contained within this, for the circumstances it addresses).  

This plan needs to draw on the best of how schools, staff, families and children responded in the spring and summer terms, build on the good practice and skills developed, but seek to address issues that were apparent to schools pre lockdown, but were thrown into stark relief, such as digital disadvantage, the importance of satisfying basic human needs and rights as a prerequisite for successful teaching and learning, and the need to support staff.

Some further detail to consider:

  • Needs of children, families and staff – including physical, mental wellbeing and workload.
  • Platforms and tools – new, familiar, fit for purpose (including safe, affordable and secure)?
  • Screen time – learning in a range of environments – inside and outside of school
  • Continuity of teacher presence and establishing and maintaining a community of learning.
  • Inclusion and access and equality of opportunity.

We can help

Given the timing we think it’s a very demanding expectation and we will be helping schools, their senior leaders and teachers, to put their plans together with a focus on pedagogy and what actually works as well as practical hints and tips and training on learning platforms and tools. 

We’ll be sharing more on this in coming days, as we continue to develop our blended learning page with more resources and guidance. Don’t forget our technical support, too. You may also find these useful to consider:

EEF school planning guide: the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) at the start of this month published a School Planning Guide 2020-21 intended to be ‘practical, evidence-based guidance to support schools in the busy and unpredictable year ahead’, with accompanying examples and templates, recommending a ‘tiered’ approach. As with all EEF guidance it’s a useful touchpoint even if you are already well underway with your own approach.

New to Subject Leaders course: our New to Subject Leaders course will focus on these topical requirements in the first session which is scheduled for Tuesday 6 October, and in our first subject leaders meeting online this term we’ll address the issues up front – look out for some hints and tips next week. The CLC team will be looking to continue to talk one to one with our SLA schools in September about your evolving needs and situations – but, as always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us too.

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