HM Chief Inspector’s annual report: What did Estyn find from its inspections in 2017/18?

Published 14/02/2019   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

In Plenary on Tuesday (19 February 2019), Assembly Members will debate the latest annual report from HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, Meilyr Rowlands. This article provides a summary of the Chief Inspector’s key findings, based on the inspections carried out by Estyn in academic year 2017/18, as well as some relevant background information.

The 2017/18 annual report was published by Estyn on 4 December 2018 and scrutinised by the Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee on 6 December 2018.

What does Estyn do?

Estyn, which the Chief Inspector leads, is a Crown body and is independent of both the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government. Estyn inspects all schools in Wales at least once within an inspection cycle and undertakes follow-up activity where the inspectorate judges this is required. There are also two statutory categories in which Estyn can place schools causing concern: in need of Significant Improvement, and requiring Special Measures.

The current cycle commenced in September 2016 and a new Common Inspection Framework was introduced in September 2017, having being developed during the first year of the new seven-year inspection cycle.

Alongside the Chief Inspector’s annual report, Estyn publishes data on inspection outcomes. This provides details of all inspection judgements in 2017/18 and for previous years.

In addition to its cycle of scheduled inspections and follow-up activities, Estyn is remitted by the Minister for Education (through the annual remit letter for each financial year) to report and/or give advice on specific matters. These reports are known as ‘thematic reports’.

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

The Common Inspection Framework, used by Estyn from September 2017, consists of five inspection areas:

  • Standards
  • Wellbeing and attitudes to learning
  • Teaching and learning experiences
  • Care, support and guidance
  • Leadership and management

Estyn forms a judgement against each of these five areas, according to the following four-point scale:

  • Excellent: Very strong, sustained performance and practice
  • Good: Strong features, although minor aspects may require improvement
  • Adequate and needs improvement: Strengths outweigh weaknesses, but important aspects require improvement
  • Unsatisfactory and needs urgent improvement: Important weaknesses outweigh strengths

Overview of key findings and conclusions

The Chief Inspector’s report includes a Foreword, which sets out his main messages, based on what Estyn observed in 2017/18.

  • Many of the trends noted in previous reports remain and inspection outcomes in 2017/18 were broadly similar to previous years.
  • Provision is consistently Excellent or Good in non-maintained nurseries, maintained special schools and further education colleges.
  • There have been overall improvements in primary schools, following improvements in fundamental factors such as attendance and basic literacy in recent years.
  • Standards are Excellent or Good in 84% of the primary schools inspected in 2017/18 (up from around 70% in 2016/17).
  • However, tackling underperformance and reducing variability remain key challenges in other sectors, particularly secondary schools. This is a continuing picture from previous years.
  • Standards are Excellent or Good in 52% of secondary schools in 2017/18 (around the same as 2016/17).
  • There is more polarisation of inspection outcomes in secondary schools than primary schools, i.e. more secondary schools are judged as either Excellent or Unsatisfactory than primary schools (most primary schools are judged as Good).
  • The main challenge in primary schools appears to be progressing from Good to Excellent.
  • The main challenge amongst secondary schools appears to reducing variability between schools and addressing the sizeable proportions of schools whose standards are judged as Adequate and needing improvement (41%) and Unsatisfactory (7%) respectively.

Under-performing schools

39 of 200 primary schools inspected in 2017/18 required some form of follow-up. 29 of these are subject to further review by Estyn whilst 10 are in the two statutory categories: 7 in need of Significant Improvement and 3 requiring Special Measures.

With regards to secondary schools, 13 of the 27 inspected required follow-up. 9 of these are under Estyn review, whilst two were in need of Significant Improvement and the other two required Special Measures. The Chief Inspector wrote in his report:

Despite various initiatives, including banding and categorisation, it remains the case that these schools are not identified early enough and not enough is done to support them to develop sustainable strategies for improvement.

Meilyr Rowlands added in oral evidence to the CYPE Committee on 6 December 2018:

It is a concern. There is a need to do something urgently about these schools, in particular in the secondary sector. As I said, there is a need to identify the schools quicker, there is a need to ensure that they have better support, but I think that one of the things I think needs to be done is to harmonise the support they receive at the moment better.

The Chief Inspector also referred to a ‘working group’ which the Welsh Government is setting up and Estyn’s own improvement conferences, which bring together all the relevant agencies (including the local authority and the regional consortium) to discuss a school causing concern.

Following its consideration of the Estyn Chief Inspector’s annual report, the CYPE Committee wrote to the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM (PDF 143KB), seeking information about the role and intended aims of the working group and an update on what the Welsh Government is doing to monitor and evaluate the challenge and support provided by the four regional consortia to the most underperforming schools.

The CYPE Committee’s report On the money? Targeted funding to improve educational outcomes(PDF 1.91MB) (June 2018) highlighted the importance of ensuring the consortia were delivering on their responsibility to drive school improvement, particularly given their greater role following the closure of the Schools Challenge Cymru programme. Some stakeholders have recently been reported as questioning the merits of the consortia model, something that was also discussed during the Committee’s session with the Chief Inspector (paras 329-359)

Responding to the Committee’s letter, the Minister said (PDF 353KB) she would address its questions during the Plenary debate on the Chief Inspector’s annual report.

The new Curriculum for Wales

One of the main messages from the Chief Inspector’s 2017/18 annual report is the need for schools to get ready for curriculum reform. Estyn has published thematic reports in the past year on preparations for the new Curriculum for Wales. The new curriculum is due to be published in draft form in April 2019, finalised in January 2020 and phased in on a statutory basis from September 2022. (For more details, see our previous blog post and the Welsh Government’s consultation.)

Meilyr Rowlands told the CYPE Committee:

The point I was making in the annual report is that all schools now need to realise how much work is involved in preparing for the new curriculum. It's not a question of just picking up a folder; it's a new way of working. I think there's a lot of preparation, a lot of staff development, that needs to be done. It's a new way of working; it's a new culture, really. It's more of a framework, as you all know, and it's putting more responsibility on the school and on the teachers themselves to develop what they're teaching. So, we shouldn't, any of us, underestimate how much work is needed to prepare for that.

A Learning Inspectorate

Estyn has revised the approach to the Chief Inspector’s annual report this year following Professor Graham Donaldson’s review of the inspectorate’s role and his report, A Learning Inspectorate (June 2018). Professor Donaldson recommended Estyn produce a comprehensive ‘state of the nation’ report every three years (to coincide with the reporting of each PISA cycle) with shorter reports in other years.

The Chief Inspector has therefore not provided commentary on Welsh Government priorities and objectives as in previous years and has focused on summary reports of inspection outcomes and observations within each sector.

A Learning Inspectorate also recommended that Estyn take a greater role in supporting school improvement in addition to its current emphasis on providing assurance and accountability. It recommended that Estyn should therefore be a much bigger part of the solution rather than simply the diagnosis.

The Welsh Government and Estyn have not yet responded to Professor Donaldson’s recommendation that there be a one-year pause in Estyn’s routine cyclical inspections (but not to any follow-up activities) to allow the inspectorate to take greater involvement in developmental work and for schools to fully focus on preparations for the new curriculum without undue distraction.

The Chief Inspector has suggested he sees advantages in such a partial suspension, whilst the Minister has said her officials are still working with Estyn to consider the full impact.

How to follow the debate

The debate is scheduled for Tuesday 19 February 2019 at approximately 4.00pm. The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

Article by Michael Dauncey, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales