Estyn schools report: Minister promises 'clear way forward'

The government says it is working to boost key skills in schools

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First Minister Carwyn Jones has told AMs ministers are offering education in Wales a "clear way forward" after a lack of leadership and accountability.

School inspectors have said the quality of teaching needs to improve if overall school standards are to rise.

Estyn's annual report raises concerns about the "variable" quality of teaching and standards generally, especially in secondary schools.

Conservatives called it an "indictment" of Labour's "failure" on education.

The Welsh government said it was continuing to work on key areas such as teaching, literacy and numeracy.

Start Quote

We need to pay more attention on how to help teachers move forwards”

End Quote Ann Keane Chief inspector of schools

"Fewer than half of secondary schools are good or better [compared to the previous year] and the proportion that is unsatisfactory has increased from one in seven to one in four," the Estyn report said.

"One in seven is excellent. Over two-thirds of secondary schools will be monitored in 'follow-up' visits."

Ann Keane, the chief inspector of schools, told BBC Wales that other countries were improving at a faster pace and standards in Wales were not yet showing "an upward trend".

"There is a correlation between high standards and two factors; strong leadership and high standards in the core subject departments," she said.

"We need to pay more attention on how to help teachers move forwards.

Why are schools in Wales failing?

Classroom

"There is a curriculum review going on now and we're going to have new GCSEs in numeracy and language.

"Teachers need to be involved in preparation for these changes."

The report said standards in primary schools were similar to last year.

"Seven in 10 primary schools inspected in 2012-2013 are good and around one in four is adequate. Although only one is unsatisfactory, very few are excellent," it said.

"Around a half of the primary schools inspected will be monitored in 'follow-up' visits."

Pressed on the report by all three opposition party leaders in the Senedd, Mr Jones conceded "it's true to say it's not the sort of report that we would all want to see".

Mr Jones told AMs there were elements of the Estyn report that "we can take some heart from", including the literacy and numeracy framework.

"What I think has not been there, as it should have been, is accountability," he said.

"That accountability has been strengthened and, for example, the school improvement plans will help that."

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood asked him to explain "what has gone wrong with education in this country".

How do you turn a school around?

Helen Coulson is the head teacher at Fairwater High School in Cwmbran, Torfaen, which went from being rated unsatisfactory in 2011 to significantly improving in November 2013.

No schools can improve unless they fully understand and agree and accept that they are underperforming in the first place. When Estyn introduced the new framework in 2010, I think it shocked a lot of schools. They'd really upped the bar, and quite a lot of schools that had passed their inspections previously now fell into the "unsatisfactory" category.

I think there are two or three key things which schools have to improve and the first thing undoubtedly is strong leadership. The head teacher obviously but also the senior leadership team and any other leaders in the school. they all have to accept where they are and have a really clear and focused vision for improvement.

There are a lot of things schools can do. Finances are tough everywhere but I don't see that as an excuse not to provide that adequate training that is required. Some teachers do need that more specific support to help them build in particular areas, but it is doable.

I think you have to have a complete culture change. You have to accept you need an open door policy. Nobody is perfect - however good a teacher you are, however good a school you are. Even if you are rated excellent by Estyn there are absolutely areas within your school where you can improve your practice.

That's one of the things we are trying to do in Fairwater which is saying, great, we have made all these great improvements but where else can we go, where else can we take it? Let's keep improving in all areas. To publicly admit we're not doing so well in this area is quite a brave step but unless you do that in the first place I don't think you've got any chance of moving on.

Mr Jones said the Welsh government was now offering education a "clear way forward", conceding that there had been a "blurring of the lines of accountability, in terms of leadership in schools [and] in terms of leadership in local education authorities".

Ms Wood told the first minister he appeared "not to take any responsibility for the failings in education to date" and accused him of failing to provide schools with "adequate national leadership".

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said Estyn's verdict on schools in Wales was a "damning indictment of 14 years of Labour failure in education".

"The number of excellent schools remain in a small minority and two thirds of secondary schools and half of primary schools are in need of follow-up inspections," he said.

Mr Davies urged the first minster to apologise for "Labour's lack of delivery in education, that is amplified by this report today from Estyn".

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said that after four years of "disappointing Estyn reports" pupils in Wales had still not seen the improvements that Welsh ministers "continually promise but don't deliver".

She said ministers had argued that getting local education authorities to work together as regional consortia was key to driving up standards.

"Yet, if you read the Estyn report today, they say that in more than half of local authorities that have been inspected that regional consortia are failing to deliver an improvement in standards."

Earlier, the Welsh government said it was determined to "put the right policies and initiatives in place to create an education system that truly delivers for our young people".

A spokesperson said: "We've been honest and up-front about the challenges facing our education system and it's clear from this report that we must continue to work together to improve key areas such as teaching, assessment and literacy and numeracy.

"Building an excellent education system, which is the ambition of everyone in the sector, will take time but we are not complacent and we are making progress.

Education minister Huw Lewis says the report sets out priorities for Wales

"We know there is a lot of good practice across Wales and, as last year's GCSE results showed, we are closing the gap with England when it comes to performance."

Owen Hathway, Wales policy officer at NUT Cymru, said there were concerns that there was not enough time or resources to give experienced teachers further training.

"That obviously has a long-term impact on the ability of the profession to keep pace with the changes brought in by the Welsh government but also in developing their professional skills as an ongoing practice," he said.

"There isn't enough time allocated to allow teachers to go on courses to have training for policies and initiatives that are brought in to get to grips with those in addition to existing workloads.

"Of course we do know that peer-to-peer support within schools and across schools is one of the vital drivers in performance, and unfortunately I think schools feel as if there's a sense of a DIY-approach to training.

"Unless they find the money and time themselves to do it, it doesn't get done."

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