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Staff shortages hitting education in England, says Ofsted

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Staff shortages mean pupils and students in England are not getting the quality, care and stability in education they need, according to a report by Ofsted that found recovery from the pandemic remained a “work in progress”.

The annual report by the education inspectorate, published on Tuesday, found “workforce and resourcing challenges” had forced nurseries to close because they could not retain staff and had led to larger class sizes in schools and colleges, as well as disruption to activities such as drama and sport, mental health interventions and support for special needs children.

The analysis echoes problems with staff retention and quality of care and services across the public sector, which is suffering a wave of strike action as workers, who have suffered real-terms pay cuts over the past decade, struggle with the mounting cost of living crisis.

Three of England’s main education unions are at present balloting members for strike action over pay, with the results due in January.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said the pandemic continued to “cast a shadow” over education and children’s social care. While “careful thought” had been given to making up lost learning, gaps between the achievement of disadvantaged pupils and their peers were “still wider” than before 2020.

“The recovery is far from complete,” she said. “Ensuring this generation of children and young people get the education, training, care and opportunities they deserve remains a work in progress . . . It’s vital that education and social care providers are able to recruit, train and retain talented and capable people.”

The report found lower-paid areas such as social services, nurseries and teaching assistants in schools were losing staff to more flexible and higher-paid work, resulting in high turnover and reliance on agency workers and apprentices. This meant staff did not know children well, and were less able to ensure they were safe and learning effectively, the report said.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, said this week that inflation and a decade of real-terms cuts were “putting severe strain” on education budgets, warning this would make “high ambitions” difficult to achieve.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, which represents teachers, said Ofsted’s report was a “shocking and unprecedented” account of “deep gaps across the education workforce”, with the most vulnerable children the hardest hit.

“Education and other vital children’s services are being broken by staffing shortages, which leave services on their knees,” she added.

The government said it had put in place a “wide range” of support including £5bn in education recovery and increasing school budgets over the next two years.

“We know the pandemic has impacted children’s learning and social care, and we are incredibly grateful for the resilience and hard work of teachers, headteachers, social workers and other staff,” it said.

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