Blackpool schools hit back at head of Ofsted's claims food parcel 'priorities' may have hit learning

Resort school leaders hit back at claims from Ofsted's chief inspector that teachers' "attention went very rapidly to the most disadvantaged children" during the pandemic, potentially hindering learning for other pupils.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 12:30 pm
Head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman.

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector for Education, said "disparities" were seen within state education compared with private schools during the pandemic, when remote learning was required in England.

Speaking at an Institute for Government event, she said although "the average private school has three times as much money, so far more staff, far more technology to mobilise to switch to teaching remotely,” it did not explain the differences in education between state and private schools while youngsters were learning at home.

Ms Spielman added: "In a lot of schools it felt as though their attention went very rapidly to the most disadvantaged children, into making food parcels, going out visiting.

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Anchorsholme Academy headteacher Graeme Dow.

"They put a great deal of attention into the children with greatest difficulties which is admirable, but in some cases that probably got prioritised. Certainly last summer, the summer of 2020, which may have meant that they did not have the capacity left to make sure there was some kind of education offer for all children."

Her comments were met with contempt from resort school leaders, who jumped to the defence of their staff for their response to dealing with both remote learning and maintaining the wellbeing of their pupils during lockdown.

Pastoral and support staff at schools under the Fylde Coast Academy Trust (FCAT) umbrella, which include Armfield, Aspire, Gateway and Unity Academies, rallied round to support children outside of school to enable teachers to focus on lessons.

Sean Bullen, director of education at FCAT, said: "During this extraordinary period our young people received high quality food parcels that were generally well received by parents and carers, largely managed by support staff, thus leaving the way clear for teachers and teaching assistants to teach well constructed and delivered lessons whether it be remotely or onsite learning for the students whose parental work required them to be in school.

Sean Bullen, director of Education at Fylde Coast Academy Trust.

"The staff in all our schools responded so well to the sudden demands that required some quite unique responses - indeed we imagine this was the case in all schools in Blackpool and probably in the country.

"Headteachers expertly managed both the educational needs of the children in the form of quality lessons, and the welfare needs of all students, whether it be the provision of food, support with anxiety or the valued relationships that always exist in any school."

Ms Spielman's comments also received criticism from unions, which said staff balanced unfamiliar demands in circumstances they would not have found themselves in before the pandemic.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools have worked very hard throughout the pandemic to juggle many demands which have often been unfamiliar and required entirely new approaches and processes to be put in place.

"Our experience is that they have done extremely well in balancing these demands and doing the best they can for all their students at all times."

Graeme Dow, headteacher at Anchorsholme Academy in Eastpines Drive, said his pastoral team and teachers had to readjust to "working differently" when remote learning and wellbeing support was needed outside of school.

Mr Dow said: "When the Government itself introduced free school meals vouchers that ran throughout the holidays, we had to distribute those, so our admin teams and pastoral staff and even our IT technician became very involved with that.

"But that wasn't taking us away from other duties, they were new duties in addition to the ones we already had. So I think it's a bit misguided to say schools have focused on one thing rather than another.

"We absolutely put the education of children as our continual priority, because that's what it is. And we had to find new ways to do that through the remote learning systems that we put into place."

When asked about plans in place to help children "catch up" after time at home during lockdown, Ms Spielman said: "Most of the catching up children will do will happen in their main classroom with their teachers, there are things that we an do to make that as good as it can be.

"But there's this everyday magic that teachers do of really motivating children to want to learn and introducing them to the whole curriculum, taking them through in a well-structured way with minimal wastage of time."