Leadership in education

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This afternoon (16 May 2017), the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams will make a statement in the Senedd about leadership in education.

Successive Estyn reports have highlighted the importance of strong and effective leadership to improving educational standards. In his most recent annual report (2015/2016), HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales said that leadership is the ‘most significant factor’ in school improvement. Estyn has also reported previously:

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Assembly to debate Estyn Chief Inspector’s 2015/16 Annual Report

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In Plenary on Tuesday (07 March 2017), Assembly Members will debate HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, Meilyr Rowlands’ 2015/16 annual report. The annual report was published on 24 January 2017 and has already been scrutinised by the Children, Young People and Education Committee on 15 February 2017.

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Improving school standards

10 June 2016

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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The last Welsh Government prioritised improving standards and performance in schools after disappointing PISA results delivered a ‘shock to the system’. Will this approach continue and what are the main challenges?

The focus the Welsh Government placed on school standards and performance during the Fourth Assembly was unprecedented. Ministers admitted previous governments of their own political colour may have taken their ‘eye off the ball’. The new Welsh Government will need to decide whether to continue with the same approach as its predecessor in dealing with these challenges.

This is a picture of mathematical formulae

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

PISA’s influence

In December 2010, Leighton Andrews, the then Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning, described Wales’s results in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as a ‘wake up call to a complacent system’.

The plans he initiated in response were centred around a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy as well as greater accountability and stronger leadership and management in schools. The 2012 PISA results were not much better with Wales scoring lower than England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, as well as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. However, the Welsh Government stressed that its reforms were still bedding in and it would take years to meet the challenges highlighted by PISA.

In early 2016, Huw Lewis, the then Minister for Education and Skills, reflected that the 2009 results delivered a ‘shock to the system’ and that ‘so much has changed as a result of PISA’.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

  • surveys aptitude of 15 year olds in reading, maths and science
  • run by OECD in the year cycles
  • countries scored and ranked by results of their sample’s performance

An education improvement plan

The previous Welsh Government published its education improvement plan, Qualified for Life, in 2014. This was partly in response to a review it commissioned from the OECD (2014) which concluded there was a lack of long-term vision and lack of a clear strategy for school improvement.

This a table showing PISA 2012 results

PISA 2012 scores

Qualified for Life sets out a package of reforms planned until 2020, based around four strategic objectives:

  • an excellent professional workforce;
  • an engaging and attractive curriculum;
  • internationally respected qualifications; and
  • a self-improving system with strong leadership

The previous Welsh Government also committed to publishing an annual Wales Education Report Card setting out what it had done against each strategic objective. It published the first Wales Education Report Card in March 2016. This reported that the Welsh Government had made progress at each phase of education and was narrowing the attainment gap at every key stage between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers. However, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) argued the report card did not provide the whole picture. The ATL referred to the latest annual report from the inspectorate, Estyn, and said the Minister was ‘marking his own homework’.

Pupil achievement in Wales, by eligibility for free school meals

Pupil achievement in Wales, by eligibility for free school meals
Note: Level 2 threshold inclusive = 5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C including Mathematics and English/Welsh, or equivalent

Challenges highlighted by Estyn

It is clear that the new Welsh Government will have a number of challenges to overcome if it wants to improve school standards and pupil outcomes. Some of these were highlighted by the Estyn Chief Inspector’s 2014/15 annual report. He concluded that although progress has been made, more remains to be done. Reporting on the sample of schools inspected in 2014/15, the Chief Inspector said:

  • there is a ‘variability in standards’ and too wide a gap between the best and worst performers which cannot be explained simply by socio-economic factors;
  • only half of secondary schools have suitable plans for literacy and numeracy. In the other half, planning across the curriculum is ‘weak’;
  • teaching is good or better in only around half of secondary schools. In the other half, ‘the quality of teaching is inconsistent and activities are not challenging enough’; and
  • good leadership ‘makes the biggest difference’ to the quality of a school’s provision.

Future policy and the PISA 2015 results

In the final weeks of the Fourth Assembly, the then Minister claimed there was a ‘new momentum’ in education. He pointed to improved GCSE results and a narrowing of the poverty attainment gap, which was one of his top priorities.

The Welsh Government’s target for improvement in PISA is long-term: scores of 500 in each of the three domains (reading, mathematics and science) by 2021. However, the results of the 2015 cycle will be published in December 2016 and should show how much impact the raft of reforms over the past four or five years have had. In January 2016, the then Minister told the Fourth Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee that evidence of ‘an entire system moving forward … must be reflected in [those] PISA results’.

The previous Welsh Government said it would not let up the drive for improvement. However, will the new Welsh Government, and the new Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary, place so much stock on PISA and will they continue with the reforms already underway? If not, what approach will they take?

Key sources

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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Estyn Chief Inspector’s Annual Report 2014/15: A brief overview ahead of Plenary debate

Thursday 18 February 2016

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

this is a picture of a mathematical formula in chalk on a blackboard

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Next week (Tuesday 23 February 2016), Assembly Members will debate the annual report of Estyn’s Chief Inspector, which provides a summary of inspection outcomes of schools and other education and training settings in academic year 2014/15. This is the first of two articles which aim to inform next week’s plenary debate.

The 2014/15 annual report is the first since the new Chief Inspector, Meilyr Rowlands, was appointed in June 2015. New features this year include an online search and filter facility, providing outcome data for all inspections undertaken in 2014/15 as well as throughout the current inspection cycle which began in 2010.

In his report, the Chief Inspector refers to the education reforms of recent years, saying they had ‘set sound foundations for education’ in Wales. He reports that:

‘On the whole, progress is being made with these foundations and we are beginning to see the benefits of this groundwork, although more remains to be done.’

Indeed, arguably the main message from the Chief Inspector is the ‘variability in standards’, which he describes as ‘one of the most noticeable features of the Welsh education system’. He reports:

‘Once again this year, there is a marked contrast between the quality of teaching and learning, particularly in our best education providers and in the weakest. This variability is not due primarily to socio-economic factors as some of our best providers are in relatively deprived areas.’

(…)

‘… the gap between the schools that are doing well and those that are not is still too wide. The variability in quality of education that exists between providers, and their varied capacity for leadership, self-improvement and partnership working, needs to be addressed.’

The contrast in performance is most visible amongst secondary schools. One in six secondary schools were judged as Excellent overall, whilst about the same proportion were judged to be Unsatisfactory. The Chief Inspector says this represents a ‘polarisation in inspection outcomes’ in secondary schools, according to the sample inspected in 2014/15, as the proportion of both those judged Excellent or Unsatisfactory rose from the previous year.

Mr Rowlands has already answered questions about his report from the Children, Young People and Education Committee on 27 January 2016 (PDF 461KB). He offered some explanation to the Committee why standards tended to vary to the extremes more in secondary schools than primary schools:

‘Why is that polarisation greater in secondary than in primary? I think it’s not just a function of inspection, as you see it in lots of other indicators. So, for example, the gap between boys’ performance and girls’ performance seems to get wider as children get older. The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers also seems to get wider as they get older. There seems to be a cumulative effect that starts, maybe, in primary school, but gets wider in secondary. I think the other factor in terms of this polarisation, possibly, is that secondary schools are bigger and more complex organisations than primary schools.’

What does Estyn actually look at when it inspects schools and other settings?

Estyn uses a Common Inspection Framework, which was introduced at the start of the current cycle in September 2010. This framework consists of three key questions on ‘how good’ are outcomes, provision, and leadership and management. Estyn then forms two overall judgements about the current performance and prospects for improvement of each setting according to a four point scale: Excellent; Good; Adequate; Unsatisfactory.

There are two tables at the end of this article. Table 1 presents the results of the two overall judgements of settings within school-age and early years sectors in 2014/15. Table 2 shows these results on a cumulative basis throughout the current cycle to date.

What has happened to inspection outcomes?

Estyn’s online data provides for analysis of trends in inspection outcomes between individual years

  • The proportion of primary schools inspected during the year that were judged Excellent or Good decreased from 70% in 2012/13 to 62% in 2013/14, before rising to 67% in 2014/15.
  • The proportion of secondary schools inspected during the year that were judged Excellent or Good increased from 45% in 2012/13 to 53% in 2013/14, before falling to 41% in 2014/15.

However, the Chief Inspector urges caution in reaching conclusions simply based on annual samples. In his report, he highlights that none of the changes listed above were statistically significant. On 27 January 2016, he told the Children, Young People and Education Committee:

‘..all those changes were, in fact, within those error bars [used to measures ranges of statistical significance]. So, what that means is that, in reality, you can be pretty sure that, overall, there hasn’t been a lot of change in either primary or secondary.’

So whilst there has not been much significant change in the proportion of schools which are Good or better, there has been an increase in the proportion of these that are Excellent in the secondary sector. Similarly, there has not been a significant change in the proportion that are Adequate at best, but there has been a rise in the proportion of secondary schools that are Unsatisfactory. Hence, the polarisation which the Chief Inspector talks about. Meilyr Rowlands puts this down, above all else, to the level of consistency within schools and the quality of leadership. As he told the Committee:

‘So, ultimately, we have little doubt that what makes the biggest difference in terms of what makes good provision in a school is good leadership.’

We will post another article tomorrow, looking at particular sectors and what Estyn has to say about performance against the Welsh Government’s education priorities.

Table 1: Inspection Outcomes by Sector 2014/15

Table 1: Inspection Outcomes by Sector 2014/15

Source: Extracted from Estyn data (data.estyn.gov.wales)
Notes: a) The numbers in brackets after the sectors denote the numbers of settings inspected; b) Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding; c) Figures for categories other than primary and secondary schools, and settings for children aged under 5, have been provided as numbers rather than percentages, due to the small number of providers included.

Table 2: Inspection Outcomes by Sector 2010/11 – 2014/15

Table 2: Inspection Outcomes by Sector 2010/11 - 2014/15

Source: Extracted from Estyn data (data.estyn.gov.wales)
Notes: a) The numbers in brackets after the sectors denote the numbers of settings inspected; b) Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding; c) Figures for categories other than primary and secondary schools, and settings for children aged under 5, have been provided as numbers rather than percentages, due to the small number of providers included.

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