From September to December 2020, as part of a phased return following the COVID-19 suspension of routine inspections, Ofsted are conducting a programme of ‘interim visits’ to social care providers and education settings in England. These are not full inspections, with the aim instead being to understand how organisations have responded to the challenges presented by the pandemic.
Ofsted summarised the findings from the first three months of interim visits, including how the first national lockdown affected children and young people, in a series of monthly briefings.
The first set of briefings on schools and children's social care providers cover visits conducted in September 2020. These were followed by briefings on schools, early years, further education and skills, children’s social care and local areas’ SEND provision, covering visits in October and November 2020.
We've pulled out the key findings relating to safeguarding and child protection.
For social care providers
- There is evidence of improved multi-agency working, facilitated by better attendance at meetings held online.
- Child protection referral numbers dropped at the beginning of the first lockdown. Since then referrals have not risen at a consistent rate, suggesting some areas are still not effectively identifying risk.
- Very few local authorities have taken advantage of the temporary relaxation of regulations.
- Coronavirus restrictions have led to a backlog of public law cases, slowing down care proceedings and delaying decision making.
- Children moving into secure children's homes have had to isolate for 14 days. This has increased anxiety, and in some cases resulted in violent behaviour or self-harming.
- Staff shortages in secure children's homes because of coronavirus have had an impact on children's feelings of safety.
- Supervising social workers have helped foster carers to understand how children's fears and anxieties around coronavirus might influence their actions and agencies have tailored help and support to meet foster carers' needs.
- Concerns for the future (including those around staffing levels, placement availability for children in care, the risk of drift and delay and financial shortfalls) pre-date, but have been exacerbated by, the pandemic.
For education settings
- During the first lockdown, whilst most pupils weren’t physically in school, there was an increased focus in schools on training and development - especially around safeguarding. Most training was online, meaning more staff could attend.
- During the first lockdown, some schools avoided live virtual lessons, because of concerns around safeguarding, whilst others felt live lessons allowed them to spot potential safeguarding issues. Most schools reported increased training and confidence in teaching remotely as time went by.
- Many schools said they had not seen lots of new safeguarding concerns as a direct result of the pandemic, but pre-existing concerns had been exacerbated by the lockdowns.
- The majority of early years providers reported referring a similar number of children to external agencies as the previous year. However, almost a third reported that more children needed help, with providers in the most deprived areas most likely to have referred children.
- Some leaders, including those of special schools, were concerned about pupils becoming more involved in criminal exploitation during the lockdown. Some schools had given assemblies or tutor sessions to address this.
- Some schools reported concerns about the use of social media by pupils. Most were isolated incidents where a pupil had been interacting with strangers online.
- Schools and early year settings also expressed concerns about how the additional pressures placed on parents and carers by the pandemic might have affected their children.
- Children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) were less likely to be attending their schools and colleges than their peers. Some were exposed to increased levels of abuse and neglect while at home or in care.
You can read all the reports published so far on the GOV.UK website.