Estyn Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2014/15: More detailed commentary ahead of Plenary debate

19 February 2016

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This is a picture of some pencils.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

This is the second article on the Estyn Chief Inspector’s annual report ahead of the Assembly debate on Tuesday (23 February 2016).

Yesterday’s article looked at the Chief Inspector’s general overall comments about what Estyn inspectors had found during 2014/15 and presented some data on inspection outcomes in two tables. Today, we take a closer look at specific sectors and at the Welsh Government’s education priorities.

The Chief Inspector’s annual report includes ‘sector reports’ for each aspect of the Welsh education system it inspects. Below are some of the key points.

Primary schools

  • Standards were judged Good or better in approximately two thirds of primary schools inspected.
  • Provision overall was judged Good or better in three quarters of schools inspected.

Secondary schools

  • The proportion of schools judged as Excellent rose to 16%, the highest proportion of any year since 2010. However, the proportion of schools judged as Unsatisfactory also increased. The Chief Inspector describes this as a ‘polarisation of outcomes’, as detailed in yesterday’s article.
  • Estyn inspectors identified excellent practice in 38% of secondary schools, a 13 percentage point increase on 2013/14.
  • Standards were judged to be Good or better in two fifths of secondary schools, lower than the previous year.
  • Provision was judged to be Good or better in around half of schools inspected, a lower proportion than last year.

Early Years

  • 36% of non-school settings for children aged under 5 required some form of follow-up, which is higher than in the previous two years. The Chief Inspector reports this ‘reverses the previous trend of improvement in key areas, such as curriculum planning and self-evaluation’.

Pupil Referral Units (PRUs)

  • Standards were judged as Good in two PRUs and Adequate in the other, whilst provision was judged to be Good in all three. This is an improvement on the previous year.
  • The Chief Inspector cites PRUs as an example where one year’s set of inspection outcomes in a relatively small sector do not give the full picture. He says ‘the sector as a whole remains weak and changes to how PRUs are managed and organised are still needed’.

Welsh Government priorities

Literacy and numeracy

The Chief Inspector reports improvements in pupils’ literacy skills in primary schools. However, he also says in a quarter of primary schools, progress in improving numeracy skills is too variable. Estyn put this down to ‘pupils’ lack of confidence in applying numeracy skills outside of mathematics lessons’ and to ‘a lack of relevant and engaging opportunities for them to apply their skills across the curriculum.

The Chief Inspector told the Children, Young People and Education Committee on 27 January 2016 that there had been less progress with numeracy than in literacy, which he said was partly because teachers across all subjects were less comfortable and confident themselves with applying numeracy. [see paragraphs 57-62 of the Committee transcript (PDF 461KB)]

Only approximately half of secondary schools have ‘suitable plans to develop pupils’ literacy and numeracy across the curriculum’ and planning and co-ordination for progression across the curriculum in the other half are considered ‘weak’.

Tackling the impact of deprivation on attainment

The Chief Inspector notes the narrowing of the gap at all stages between the attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals and their more advantaged peers. At key stage 4 (GCSE level) the gap is the smallest it has been since 2009. Welsh Government statistics (December 2015) provide more detail.

For the first time, the annual report covers how well schools are using the Pupil Deprivation Grant. The Chief Inspector reports that ‘leaders in many primary schools use the funding … well’ and, in secondary schools, ‘a majority make effective use’ of it ‘through well-designed activities’. [Further information can be found on this in Ipsos MORI and WISERD’s Evaluation of the Pupil Deprivation Grant.]

Digital competence

The Chief Inspector reports that in a majority of primary schools, there are ‘important shortcomings in standards in ICT’ with standards Good or better in only a minority.

In most secondary schools, ‘pupils do not have enough opportunities to develop their ICT skills in subjects across the curriculum’ and this is ‘patchy and poorly co-ordinated’ according to Estyn.

The Welsh Government has decided to prioritise digital competence within the curriculum after Professor Graham Donaldson’s curriculum review recommended it should be given the same importance as literacy and numeracy.

Standards of teaching

The Chief Inspector reports that teaching was judged to be Good or better in only approximately half of secondary schools. In the other half, ‘the quality of teaching is inconsistent and activities are not challenging enough’. The annual report also says ‘in about half of lessons, teachers do not adapt work to stretch more able pupils or support those of lower ability’.

The position is better in primary schools, two-thirds of which have Good or better teaching and assessment.

The Welsh Government is currently making big changes to initial teacher education and training, following the Furlong Review, and to teachers’ continuing professional development through the ‘New Deal’.

Leadership and management

Estyn has regularly emphasised that good leadership goes hand in hand with the quality of provision. As the previous year’s annual report said:

‘Inspection findings have shown, time and again over the past five years, that there is a link between the quality of leadership and the quality of outcomes for learners.’

This was also a main message in Estyn’s thematic report, Best practice in leadership development in schools (PDF 920KB) (June 2015).

This theme is again highlighted in the 2014/15 report. For example. the Chief Inspector reports that all of the primary schools placed in a statutory category in 2014/15 have weaknesses in leadership and management.

The Chief Inspector reports that, in 2014/15:

  • Leadership and management is Good or better in seven in ten primary schools, which is the same level as the previous year.
  • Leadership and management is Good or better in 43% of the secondary schools inspected this year. Put another way, it is only Adequate at best in nearly three in five schools.
  • In just over a quarter of secondary schools, self-evaluation is Unsatisfactory and important aspects, such as teaching and assessment, are missing from self-evaluation reports.

Self-evaluation

In his first annual report as Chief Inspector, Meilyr Rowlands has included a series of self-evaluation questions, which he says:

‘staff and governors may find helpful in thinking about teaching and learning in their own school or non-school setting and about how well prepared they are for the changes that lie ahead [the new curriculum etc] over the next few years.’

The Chief Inspector told the Children, Young People and Education Committee on 27 January 2016 (PDF 461KB):

‘Well, you know what Estyn’s view is: self-evaluation is exceptionally important. Very often, those schools that perform well are the schools that self-evaluate in a very honest way. (…) So, we are constantly emphasising the importance of self-evaluation and self-assessment as something that every school does on an annual basis.’

The debate on the Estyn annual report is scheduled for around 4.00pm on Tuesday 23 February 2016. It can be watched on SeneddTV.

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