05 March 2018
In Plenary on Tuesday (06 March 2018), Assembly Members will debate HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, Meilyr Rowlands’ 2016/17 annual report [PDF 3.40MB].
This year’s Annual Report is the final report in the 2010-2017 inspection framework cycle and the Report considers outcomes for 2016/17 as well as providing an overview of outcomes across the seven years. During this period, all providers of education and training have been inspected at least once. A summary of th 2010-2017 inspection framework and the new framework in place since September 2017 can be seen towards the end of this article.
The publication of the Estyn Annual Report 2009-2010 marked the end of the previous six-year inspection cycle and coincided with the 2009 PISA results both of which ultimately has led to the wholescale education reform that continues today. The 2016/17 Annual Report covers the period over which education reforms have begun to be implemented. The Chief Inspector states that :
Overall, a coherent education reform programme exists for compulsory education, which addresses our main challenges and avoids the dangers of unintended consequences arising from piecemeal reform.
The review of the past seven years show that much has changed and continues to change, and the Chief Inspector is broadly positive stating ‘there is much to be proud of in the Welsh education system’. However, the report also finds that inspection findings for the academic year 2016/17 are broadly similar to those for the last seven years as a whole.
Change in culture
One of the main messages of the report is that the biggest trend in education in Wales over the past seven years has been the move towards a culture of self-improvement and a shift towards greater collaboration. The Welsh Government’s package of education reforms –the curriculum, initial teacher education and training and teachers’ professional learning are all based on the approach of a self-improving system. This is where the key players in the education system take shared responsibility for their own improvement and for the improvement of others.
Eight key policies
As is usual, the Annual Report provides a commentary on individual education sectors, such as primary and secondary schools, youth justice and teacher education. This year, the report also looks at progress in eight specific key policy areas over the seven years. Some of the report’s findings are:
- The Foundation Phase began in 2004/05 and was rolled out across Wales in 2009/10. In the Foundation Phase, children learn through first-hand experiential activities with ‘play’ providing the vehicle for learning. The Annual Report finds that its’ implementation has been inconsistent. Research suggests that children do not benefit from formal learning until they are aged 6 or 7. However, the report states that many schools employ more traditional teaching methods, particularly for children aged 5 to 7, especially following the introduction of reading and numeracy tests. But, the Chief Inspector reports that, where applied as intended, children make good progress.
- Developing literacy and numeracy skills has been one of the Welsh Government’s education priorities since the beginning of the inspection cycle, and the Welsh Government introduced the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework which became statutory in September 2013. Pupils need good literacy to allow them to access the whole of the curriculum. Numeracy is an essential skill that enables pupils to apply numerical facts and skills to real-life problems. The Chief Inspector reports that pupil literacy has improved and have had a positive effect on standards. Numeracy has also improved, but remains a priority.
- The Welsh Government introduced the Digital Competence Framework in September 2016, the first aspect of curriculum reform in Wales. Digital competence is one of three cross-curricular responsibilities, alongside literacy and numeracy, although the Digital Framework is not yet statutory. Although improving ICT skills has been a Welsh Government goal since 2008, the Annual Report finds that pupil progress in ICT has not advanced at the same rate as the significant advancements in technology over the past seven years.
- Tackling the effects of disadvantage has also been a Welsh Government priority and there have been a number of initiatives and strategies to support this. The Annual Report find that schools have a stronger focus on tackling the effects of disadvantage than at the start of the inspection cycle. However, it finds that there is still a need to raise standards for pupils living in poverty as they still do not achieve as well as their peers. The most recent Welsh Government statistics (December 2017) show that at Key Stage 4, 41.3 per cent of pupils who are eligible for free school meals achieved the Level 2 threshold (the Level 2 threshold measure equals 5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C or the vocational equivalent) compared to 73.6 per cent who are not eligible for free school meals. Estyn have also submitted written evidence to the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s Targeted Funding to Improve Educational Outcomes inquiry.
- As mentioned above, the shift towards collaboration is one of the biggest trends over the last seven years. According to the OECD, school to school working provides the means of circulating knowledge around the system. It provides an alternative way of supporting struggling schools and develops collective responsibility. Estyn’s Annual Report found that nearly all schools are involved in some form of partnership working with other schools. However, the majority of schools were unable to identify whether, or how, school to school working had an impact on pupil standards.
- The Welsh Government’s Welsh-medium education strategy was published in 2010. The Chief Inspector reports on Welsh-medium education across all sectors. He found that, from a low starting point, there has been an increase in the number of Welsh or bilingual learning activities in further education in recent years. However, too few Welsh learners continue their studies in Welsh or bilingually in further education or work-based learning. A shortage of Welsh speaking staff is a significant obstruction to expanding provision in the majority of colleges.
- The Chief Inspector’s report states that leadership is the key factor in achieving the best possible learner outcomes. Its importance has also been recognized by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams’ announcement in November 2016 of the establishment of a new, arms-length National Academy for Leadership . Estyn’s overall judgements on leadership have been good or better in around 75 per cent of primary schools and around half of secondary schools. This has changed little over the cycle. In a quarter of primary schools and four in ten secondary schools, leadership requires improvement.
- Similarly to previous years, the Chief Inspector reports that although there are many strengths in some areas (nursery settings, maintained special schools and further education colleges) variability remains a challenge in most other sectors;
- Over the seven years, 77 per cent of inspection judgements have been good or better (71 per cent good and 6 per cent excellent. Twenty three per cent of judgements have been less than good (20 per cent adequate and 3 per cent unsatisfactory);
- The strongest areas of education across most sectors are in relation to learner well-being, care support and guidance and learner environment;
- Standards, teaching and learning experience and improving quality are relatively weaker;
- As reported in last year’s Annual Report, on average, outcomes are better in primary schools than secondary schools. One of the main differences is the effect of external exams which are strongly linked to accountability systems such as school categorisation and school performance measures. The Report suggests that there is a danger that exam entry policy and advice given to pupils on the qualifications they study may be driven by accountability. This may also result in ‘teaching to the test’ focussing too much on exam technique rather than providing a broad education;
- In further education and work-based learning, mergers have resulted in a smaller number of large providers. Over the past seven years, the number of further education colleges have reduced from 22 to 13 and the number of work-based learning providers has reduced from 78 to 19. The resulting new leadership teams have benefited from the strengths of the constituent institutions and built on the advantages of the critical mass provided by the large institutions. Inspection outcomes have improved overall in these sectors over the cycle.
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.
Estyn publishes data on its inspection outcomes. This provides details of all inspection judgements since the start of the current inspection framework cycle in September 2010. This can be filtered by specific sectors.
Changes to the inspection system and Estyn too?
Estyn introduced a new inspection approach in September 2017. Schools, independent specialist colleges, pupil referral units and work-based learning providers will be judged under five inspection areas:
- Wellbeing and attitudes to learning
- Teaching and learning experiences
- Care, support and guidance
- Leadership and management.
The increased emphasis on wellbeing is a positive feature of the new inspection framework. It also features prominently in the Welsh Government’s education action plan, Education in Wales: Our National Mission [PDF1.91MB], published in September 2017.
Providers will be judged using a four point scale: Excellent; Good; Adequate and needs improvement; and Unsatisfactory and needs urgent improvement.
In July 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Chief Inspector announced that Professor Graham Donaldson had been asked to undertake an independent review of the role of Estyn in supporting education reform. This action was proposed by Meilyr Rowlands. The Terms of Reference of the Review include establishing the ways in which Estyn’s contribution to improving the quality of Welsh education could be further enhanced and outline implications for the future operational requirements of Estyn. Professor Donaldson is expected to report early this year.
Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service