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Ofsted boss blasts state schools that put food parcels ahead of learning during lockdown

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Many state schools were more interested in delivering food parcels to the poorest children last summer than they were in delivering remote education to all their pupils, the head of Ofsted has said.

Teachers often devoted a "great deal of attention" to the children with the greatest difficulties during the first national lockdown, according to Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools.

She said that this was "admirable" but added that "in some cases that probably got prioritised" over ensuring that pupils were receiving a proper education while schools were closed.

Speaking at an Institute for Government online event, Ms Spielman said that when comparing the kind of remote education received by children at private schools compared to their peers in the state sector, the "unevenness" in resources must be acknowledged.

"It's clear that there were enormous disparities in what schools offered, and many parents comparing what school A was offering and what school B was offering," she said. "There is an unevenness in resources, which I think we have to acknowledge."

Advantage of private schools

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

"But that doesn't explain the disparities that we saw in the state sector," Ms Spielman told the event. "Another thing I saw was that in a lot of schools, it felt as though their attention went very rapidly to the most disadvantaged children - making food parcels, going out visiting.

"They put a great deal of attention into the children with greatest difficulties, which is admirable, but in some cases that probably got prioritised … [and] which may have meant that they didn't have the capacity left to make sure that there was some kind of education offer for all children."

However, headteachers defended their approach saying that their approach "helped to shield large numbers of children from the worst effects of the pandemic".

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "From the very start of the crisis, staff looked after the most vulnerable pupils as the country went into lockdown; they effectively reimagined the very concept of 'school' as they worked to implement a remote-learning offer.

"The solutions offered by central government almost always arrived long after schools had worked things out for themselves. Schools learned much more quickly than policy-makers about what worked and what pupils needed."

MPs attack 'invisible' Ofsted

Meanwhile, Ofsted was attacked by MPs for being "virtually invisible" during the first lockdown last year.

Robert Halfon MP, the Tory chairman of the education select committee, told Dame Christine Ryan, Ofsted's chairman: "It seems to me that Ofsted was virtually invisible in terms of - particularly in the first lockdown - in making clear what kind of standards of remote learning there should be, and how it should be done, and that you just vacated the field.

"The evidence is there in terms of the lost learning of pupils and the very, very patchy remote learning from school to school."

Dame Ryan defended Ofsted to the committee, saying that its role "might not have been big and showy, but it did lots of work behind the scenes" including emergency inspections.

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