A Learning Inspectorate - FAQs

In May 2018, an independent review of Estyn’s role in supporting curriculum and education reform made 34 recommendations. The report recognised the strengths of Estyn and the vital role we play in enhancing the learning of young people in Wales. We want to keep our stakeholders up to date as this work develops. These FAQs outline the latest picture.

How are the recommendations of the independent review being implemented?

In February 2019, the Minister for Education announced plans for Estyn to play a greater role in supporting schools to prepare for the new curriculum.

Our Chief Inspector, Meilyr Rowlands, welcomed this announcement and has outlined how we will take forward the report recommendations and what our role will be in enhancing the lives of young people through evaluation and improvement.

A consultation in summer 2019 will ask everyone involved in schools for their views on how we can best support curriculum reform. In particular, the consultation will focus on the proposal to partially suspend school inspections (in nursery, primary, secondary and special schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) that are run by a local authority) in 2020-2021 and seek ideas about how inspectors can work with schools during this transition year.  We will continue to inspect providers in all other sectors.

This will be the first in a series of consultations about how inspection can best support schools and other providers to manage the many changes taking place in education.  Achieving success for learners will continue to be at the centre of our work.

What would inspectors do in the transition year 2020-2021?

We plan to carry out engagement visits to schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) to help support the changes that are happening in education.  During the transition year, our aim is to visit all schools in Wales. These visits are likely to last one day.

We are also asking our stakeholders what the focus of engagement visits could be and what other activities during the transition year could help to support education reform. These could include thematic reports, sharing good practice case studies, national conferences and support through work with regional and local authority school improvement services.

We will also continue with our inspection work across other sectors including non-maintained nursery settings, independent schools, local government education services and post-16 education and training providers.

What is an engagement visit?

We aim to visit all schools for one day during the transition year 2020-2021 to give us real-time national feedback on progress with preparing for the new curriculum. One or two inspectors will talk to pupils and staff, depending on the size of the school.  For schools in follow-up, we will discuss the changes in education as part of the monitoring visit and not do a separate visit.

The evidence we collect during these visits will allow us to provide feedback on progress against national priorities.  On an engagement visit, we will also provide the school with brief feedback on national developments and what is working well.

Engagement visits during the transition year may focus on understanding how well schools are developing their practices in relation to the new curriculum, additional learning needs reform and the new resource for self-evaluation for improvement.

 We will use feedback from schools to decide how helpful the visits have been and to plan what role inspector engagement visits might play from 2021 onwards. 

What will be the outcome of school engagement visits during 2020-2021?

We do not plan to publish a report or provide schools and PRUs with any written feedback on their strengths and priorities for improvement as part of the engagement visit.  During the visit, inspectors’ professional discussions with school staff will help us build a picture of how the school is developing its work and responding to national priorities.  The discussions will help schools and PRUs to develop further.  Not having a formal report will help to make the visits a professional learning opportunity and encourage open and reflective discussions.

Will schools be judged on an engagement visit?

The visit is not a formal inspection. There will be no judgements or inspection report. The aim of the visit is to gather evidence about how prepared all schools are for the new curriculum. We will provide the school with brief feedback on national developments and what is working well to help build consistency across schools.

Which sectors will be affected by the partial suspension of inspections?

The partial suspension of inspections will apply to only maintained nursery schools, primary, secondary and special schools and pupil referral units.

We will continue to inspect non-maintained nursery settings, independent schools, local government education services and post-16 and initial teacher education providers. 

If school inspections are partially suspended in 2020-2021, how will Estyn continue to support underperforming schools?

We are asking stakeholders for their views through our summer consultation about how we can still ensure we support schools in special measures, in need of significant improvement or under Estyn review.

Whatever is decided, we will continue to monitor and support schools that require it. We also reserve the right to inspect any school that needs it.

How will any changes affect peer inspectors and other contracted inspectors?

We value highly the involvement of peer inspectors and other contracted inspectors in our work. We will consider carefully how best to continue to work with all our inspectors during any partial suspension of inspections. As is usual when Estyn develops any new approaches to inspection, we will ensure that all our inspectors receive appropriate guidance, training and support.

Will any changes to inspection arrangements affect other sectors?

We will consider how any planned changes to inspection from September 2021 will impact across all the sectors we inspect. If there are sensible improvements with support from stakeholders then we will consider how we can put these in place across different sectors. 

When will there be a new inspection framework?

School inspections would resume from September 2021 and new inspection arrangements introduced. The new framework will reflect the new curriculum and arrangements for self-evaluation.

How often are you likely to inspect schools in the future?

Our work with schools to develop the self-evaluation toolkit suggest that effective schools have a three-year school improvement cycle. Visiting schools every 3-4 years to provide an independent view would be supportive of their own improvement processes.

Do Estyn’s inspectors have the right skills and knowledge to support schools in curriculum reform?

Estyn inspectors are highly experienced education practitioners who still spend considerable time in schools looking at effective practice. We have been fully involved in the development of the new curriculum and our inspectors have been receiving regular updates and training like other professionals. The thematic work we do allows us to understand how well schools are preparing for curriculum reform and work with them to ensure that we all have consistently high expectations of what our pupils can expect from the new curriculum arrangements.

When are you removing grades/ judgements from inspection reports?

We will be consulting with stakeholders at every stage, including the proposal to remove summative gradings in inspection reports. This could be introduced in September 2021 with a new inspection framework. Instead of using gradings, the inspection reports would provide even more clear and detailed evaluations to help encourage professional dialogue about the underlying factors contributing to the quality of the school’s work.

We would also consult with the non-maintained sector, independent schools and post-16 providers about similar changes.

How does the independent review affect the review of self-evaluation in schools?

There are a number of references in the review to self-evaluation and the report encourages schools to continue to use self-evaluation to inform improvement processes.  We are jointly leading with the OECD a self-evaluation and improvement project that will help to inform future developments regarding self-evaluation. 

Will school self-evaluation replace inspection?

Inspection will always bring a vital, independent perspective to assuring the quality and standards in schools. But as the changes in education evolve and schools mature in their approach to improvement, it is proposed that from 2024 inspection will have a stronger focus on validating the school’s own view of their standards. Inspectors will report on how confident they are that the school’s self-evaluation process is accurate and robust.

How will you make sure that parents have enough information about the quality of a school to make informed choices for their children?

Parents and schools have told us that 7-8 years between inspections is too long. Inspecting more regularly and providing a report with clear evaluations of the strengths and areas for improvement in a school will provide parents with more up-to-date information about a school.