A REPORT prepared for the Welsh Government has recommended a series of major reforms to the schools inspection programme overseen by Estyn, the body tasked with inspecting and improving Welsh schools’ performance.
Key elements of the report, prepared by Professor Graham Donaldson who has previously advised the Welsh Government on curriculum reform, include a pause in the inspection cycle to allow ongoing reforms to bed in and the scrapping of the controversial colour-coded categorisation of schools.
Professor Donaldson criticised the ‘high stakes’ approach of categorisation as having the potential to limit development and being contrary to the Welsh Government’s plans to create a culture of self-improvement by placing the emphasis on inspection instead of education outcomes.
In the report, Prof Donaldson writes: “Inspection has come to be an important element in this ‘high-stakes’ culture. There are concerns, supported by research evidence, that in such a culture inspection can inhibit improvement and innovation if schools try to ‘second guess’ what inspectors want to see.
“Graded inspection reports and follow-up categories reinforce the association of inspection with an externally driven approach to improvement and can distort some schools’ practices to the detriment of their pupils.”
The Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales has welcomed the report, saying that it recognises the vital role that Estyn plays in enhancing the learning of young people in Wales.
Chief Inspector, Meilyr Rowlands, said: “I am grateful to Professor Donaldson for his work on this review and am glad that the report recognises the strengths of the current inspection system. We now look forward to working with Welsh Government, schools, and other stakeholders to fully consider the report’s comprehensive proposals and how to take them forward. We will keep stakeholders informed as this work develops and be seeking their views through consultation to ensure they have their say.
Professor Graham Donaldson remarked: “Wales is working to develop a dynamic and successful education system with rising standards and schools committed to their own improvement. Evidence to my Review confirms that Estyn is central to that process. The unique professional experience and expertise of its HMI and peer inspectors are a key national resource. Inspectors should both evaluate how well the young people of Wales are being served by their schools and contribute directly to improving the quality of their learning. That means more emphasis on school self-evaluation and improvement, more informative inspection reports, a more diagnostic approach to schools causing concern and more direct engagement of inspectors with reform.
The National Education Union, Wales’s largest education union has welcomed the publication of Professor Donaldson’s review.
David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “The recommendations outlined by Graham Donaldson, if accepted and implemented, will represent a seismic shift in the school inspection arrangements in Wales which will be largely welcomed by the profession as it wrestles with the ambitious educational reforms that are already underway.
In particular, we note the very real concerns identified regarding the high stakes accountability measures that have increasingly caused significant pressures and unintended consequences since being imposed upon schools in 2011. Many of the concerns we voiced at that time are reflected in this review and should become a thing of the past if the necessary changes are implemented.
A key and very welcome recommendation is the proposal that there be a moratorium on the formal inspection reporting cycle as inspectors, schools and other key stakeholders learn about, develop and implement the new curriculum. This was an issue that we pressed for very strongly. The NEU has always wanted the new curriculum to succeed and it was of vital importance that practitioners were provided with every assistance and opportunity to secure that aim.”
Keith Bowen, Director, NEU Cymru, added: “Currently, inspection can be a stressful time for education professionals in schools. We welcome these announcements, and the potential positive impact the recommendations could have on our education system. We have long pushed for self-evaluation for the schools’ sector in Wales, and Professor Donaldson’s recommendations could help make this a reality. We look forward to working with Estyn and the Welsh Government to take these recommendations forward.”
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said: “It is clear from the recommendation in the report that Professor Donaldson has listened to the teaching profession.
“The recommendation for a ‘suspension of the formal inspection reporting cycle for a period while inspectors engage with schools both to learn about and support the realisation of the new curriculum’ will be particularly welcome by teachers, school leaders and the wider education workforce, as many inspectors still appear to have very little knowledge about the new curriculum.
“This review will complement and resonate with the cultural change in terms of school accountability which is now being promoted actively by the Welsh Government.”
Rex Phillips, NASUWT National Official for Wales, said: “The report appears to steer Estyn back towards the role of ‘critical friend’ rather than ‘common enemy’ and that is to be welcomed.”
UCAC, the education union for Wales, has also welcomed the vision presented in Professor Donaldson’s report.
Rebecca Williams, UCAC’s Policy Officer said: “UCAC welcomes this report and the vision it outlines for the future inspection of schools in Wales.
“Far-reaching changes to the Welsh education system are on the way, and re-examining Estyn’s role is an important step in ensuring that all parts of the system are pulling in the same direction.
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, Professor Donaldson’s recommendations are perfectly in tune with the direction and ethos of the wider reform programme. They strike a balance between continuing to provide assurance to the public about educational standards, and giving schools more responsibility for their own self-improvement.
“The emphasis on trust, joint-working, support and professional learning – as opposed to shock and awe, and public shaming – is particularly welcome. UCAC is confident that this approach will encourage a far more open, honest and mature system that will be more likely to lead to improvement for pupils.
“We urge Welsh Government and Estyn to look favourably on the recommendations in this report.”
Rob Williams, Director of Policy for the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru said: “The recommendations emerging from the review of the inspectorate are very welcome. It is clear that we now need inspection to properly reflect the new curriculum that schools are currently seeking to implement. The concern for school leaders and staff up until this point is that the two things were becoming increasingly out of step.
“The report and recommendations also recognise that now is the time to be bold and enable schools, Estyn, Local Authorities, Regional Consortia and Welsh Government to think differently, focusing all our collective efforts upon maximising the progress and achievement of children and young people across Wales. High stakes accountability linked purely to pupil outcomes has not served our pupils well, there now needs to be an expectation that schools work together, with support from regional consortia, to continually strive for school-level driven improvement.”
South West Wales Virtual Open Day 8 July
Welsh local authorities, schools, colleges and work-based learning providers will be hosting
a series of Virtual Open Days for Year 11 pupils for the first time this month.
An event specifically for pupils from Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Neath
Port Talbot, Llanelli, Swansea and Powys will be held on Wednesday 8 July and will cover a
series of sessions on post-16 options including A Levels at sixth form or college as well as
Jonathan Davies OBE will host the sessions on apprenticeships and traineeships and will be
on hand to field questions about how to apply and get the most from industry-led training
Other sessions will be led by Pembrokeshire College, NPTC Group of Colleges, Coleg Sir
Gar and Coleg Ceredigion as well as Careers Wales and local authorities.
The spread of COVID-19 has not only meant a break in students’ learning, but also the
cancellation of many planned events like open days which were scheduled to take place
throughout the summer.
Open days are vital ways of helping Year 11 pupils to understand all their options for
continuing their education and deciding on the right path for them. It’s also the way pupils
make connections with new people and different environments to support them in making
With no indication yet of when face-to-face events might be able to go ahead again, over
220 schools, colleges and work-based learning providers across Wales are partnering with
the Welsh Government to hold virtual sessions for all Year 11 pupils in Wales to make sure
nobody misses out.
Organised by Welsh Government and hosted by Working Wales, the Virtual Open Days will
enable young people across Wales to discover the options for furthering their education in
their area, including what school and college courses are available, as well as training
opportunities like apprenticeships and traineeships, and access to careers advice from
Live sessions will be held for each region across Wales from 7 – 10 July, with lots of
additional content available throughout the second week of July and beyond. There will also
be the opportunity to put questions to local careers advisors and learning providers who
know about the provision in your area.
Virtual Open Days will be hosted online, but those without internet access at home will have
the option to phone and speak directly with schools, colleges and work-based learning
Welsh Government will be providing information about the full range of Virtual Open Days,
as well as links to partner websites and content, on Working Wales where there will also be
advice for those students who are unsure of what they want to do next.
Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, said: “Now more than ever, it’s vital that young
people are equipped with the skills, information and training they need to find fulfilling work.
“If you’re a young person, you may be unsure of what you want to do after school, or
whether you want to continue in education at all. Open days can play a vital role in helping
access the right education or training, providing a vital insight into the different courses and
ways of learning that are available to young people considering their next options.
“Virtual Open Days are a really innovative way to explore options digitally and will help
young people in deciding what to do next. Whether you are shielding at home, returning to
school to say goodbye for the summer, or are not sure what to do next, our national virtual
open days will ensure learners in every region of Wales have the opportunity to engage and
ask questions at this important time.”
Nikki Lawrence, chief executive of Careers Wales, said: “Deciding what the next step is with
your education is an important time for young people across Wales and we want to make
sure that they are still able to explore the different options that are available.
“During the four days we will be offering additional support from our expert careers advisers
who will be available via our live web chat. This will enable young people who are not sure
what the next step is to get the advice and guidance they need.”
To find out more about Wales’ Virtual Open Days, call Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or
go to www.workingwales.gov.wales/start-your-story.
School to share digital experience under lockdown
Greenhill School in Tenby is set to share their digital journey with other
educators in Wales next week in a national webinar.
Leading their part of the webinar will be Jonathan Evans, Greenhill’s DCF
(Digital Competence Framework) lead, who will be accompanied by Vicki
Price (the school’s Head of Computing) to talk about how staff, pupils and
parents have embraced digital engagement and training since the
They were approached by Ryan Evans, Google Trainer with Aspire2Be, to
be part of the webinar with him and other Google experts.
Vicki said it was a fantastic opportunity to showcase what the school has
“Jonathan has held a twice-weekly geek meet online with staff which has
been very successful,” she said.
“He has created a resources website for staff, pupils and parents to
support them. On top of this, staff meet daily on Microsoft Teams to
discuss the day ahead giving them valuable time to connect with each
Vicki added: “The school has fully embraced many features of the Hwb
Platform, some more successfully than others, and we hope that by taking
part in this webinar we can show others the journey our staff, pupils and
parents have taken in these challenging times.”
The webinar will be held via Hwb on Tuesday, 12 th May at 12:30pm as part
of a demonstration of Creative Writing Using G Suite.
You can register here to view the webinar:
Ancient Connections – Pembrokeshire and Wexford stories to be retold by school children through animation
Ancient Connections – a three-year arts, heritage and tourism project linking North
Pembrokeshire and North Wexford is delighted to celebrate the start of a cross-border
schools project which began in March 2020 and is expected to continue until Spring 2021.
The project will bring three schools together in the ambitious creation of a short animation
film telling the stories of connection between these two regions. The participating schools
are Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Scoil Naomh Maodhog Ferns and St
Edan’s School, both in Ferns, County Wexford. In March, the project kicked off with a group
of 19 pupils aged 12-13 plus staff traveling from St Davids to Ferns to meet and get to know
their peers in the Ferns schools. The group have been learning about their own heritage
stories, as well as the stories that link these two regions through working with Fishguard
based storyteller Deb Winter. In Ferns, the group performed these stories and in turn
listened to their Irish counterparts, who had been coached by storyteller Lorraine O’Dwyer.
Cilla Bramley, Head of Expressive Arts at Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi said:
I just wanted to send a HUGE thank you from all at Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi for the amazing visit
we had to Ireland. The pupils and I were so 'blown away' by the incredibly warm Irish
welcome and every aspect of our visit was perfect! The arrival at Scoil Maodhog was moving
and our pupils are now texting, snap chatting/what's apping etc. and looking forward to the
return visit. All the excursions were fabulous and informative and when I asked pupils what
their favourite aspect of the trip was, not one of them could decide as there were just too
many things to pick from.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the project will now continue through online and digital
means, until September 2020 when they will begin work with Cardiff based animation
studio Winding Snake to creatively retell these stories through different animation
techniques, culminating in a short film that will be screened in venues and online in 2021.
Amy Morris, Director of Winding Snake says:
"The team at Winding Snake are thrilled to be working with the schools involved as part
of this exciting and historic project. We can't wait to get stuck in and start making! The
young people taking part will work with us to create animation, learn musical composition,
make foley and sound effects, participate in script writing and storytelling sessions, and will
work with professional actors to learn acting and performance skills. With lots and lots of
arts and craft thrown into the mix too, it's going to be a wonderful project."
A short documentary film about the project will also be created by filmmaker Terence White
based in Wexford.
Community and academic research led by Angharad Wynne and Abarta Heritage has
unearthed some fascinating stories that link these two ancient Celtic lands. From the deep
friendship between St David and St Aidan, founder of Ferns Monastery, to strategic
marriages between powerful Irish Kings and the daughters of Norman knights in the
Mediaeval period, to human entanglement with mysterious and mythical sea creatures as
well as inclement weather causing shipwrecks on unforgiving coasts.
The Animating schools project forms one aspect of the wider Ancient Connections project,
with the aim of motivating both communities to rediscover their shared heritage; to be
mentors for one another; sharing knowledge, experience and skills to create a stronger
sense of identity and place that will continue to flourish in years to come. The stories that
emerge from the project will also be employed to create ways to attract visitors to North
Pembrokeshire and Wexford outside of school and summer holidays.
Ancient Connections is led by Pembrokeshire County Council, together with partners
Wexford County Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Visit Wexford
funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales co-
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