A primary school has built reading huts in its playground to help pupils catch up on literacy after an inspection report on children’s learning during the Covid lockdown.

The December Ofsted visit of Winterbourne Nursery and Infants, was part of a review on the impact of Covid on children’s learning. The experience is common among many schools, highlighting pupils falling behind in maths, fluency in reading socially being less confident and requiring extra lessons in PE to improve fitness.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to announce an emergency plan to help children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up, especially with reading.

In December 2019 the school received a Requires Improvement (RI) Ofsted report,. which came on the back of a ‘No Assurance’ audit from Croydon Council and a deficit budget of £202,000. 

Vice chair of the governors Michael Swadling said: “ None of these are good positions for a school to have. The school facing all three to work on, plus the challenges of 2020, stretched everyone.”

Simultaneously the school was working on its Ofsted Action Plan, and its Audit Plan, yet managed to deliver a balanced budget for the 2020/21 financial year. 

As the country was going into lockdown in early 2020, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants, whose head teacher is also on long term sick leave, started looking at options for a partner school to develop with, and considered joining an academy chain but decided againt it. 

The school found the main barrier to providing remote education was that many families could only access the internet through a smartphone and in addition, many families were not confident in supporting their children’s learning, particularly in English. 

Initially most of the school’s extra Covid funding was spent on laptops for pupils but subsequently investment has gone into the upskilling of both teachers and teaching assistants subject knowledge.

Inspectors had said that pupils returning to school “could not recall some letter sounds or understand simple text and that pupils have returned to school much less confident in social skills and independence.”

However, the inspection visit highlighted that leaders had “delivered remote education in the form of printed work packs and recorded videos which are accessed through the school website. Staff have contacted families not accessing the work to give support.”

In school the priority was to make space for pupils of key workers, nursery pupils with specialist needs in the Enhanced Learning Provision (ELP), and other Special Education Needs (SEN) pupils.

In January the Auditors returned and following much hard work over the previous year the school received a commendable ‘Substantial Assurance’ audit.

Mr Swaldling said:“Reading across the school has continued to be developed and we have built some small reading huts in the playground for pupils to use during play and lunchtime. The purpose of this is to promote the love of reading.”

All pupils are having extra lessons in physical education to improve their fitness levels and outdoor learning has also been embedded through the school’s curriculum, both in early years and key stage one. 

Many of the challenges highlighted in the December review had already been acted on when Ofsted returned to the school in February for a monitoring visit.

Mr Swadling said: “The monitoring visit doesn’t provide a grade for the school, but does provide an indication of the path the school is on. Ofsted reviewed the school plans, its website, and classes. They also take feedback from staff, and parents. Due to the hard work of staff, and commitment of the wider school community, Ofsted found the school was improving and on the path to a ‘Good’ assessment.”

The inspectors pointed to “Teachers provide a warm, nurturing start to each day with a live online session. They give clear guidance and support to pupils and parents about the day’s learning tasks.” 

Mr Swadling responded that “This past year has been a challenge for everyone, some of us have used the time to set goals, many of us have failed to achieve them, but one local school, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants, can rightly say, its whole community should be proud of its journey of self-improvement.”