A Learning Inspectorate - 9 key Qs

Prof Donaldson's review of Inspection in Wales

What might it mean for schools?

Today, as we read the newly published independent review of school inspection in Wales, led by Professor Graham Donaldson, we identified 9 key questions that are relevant for schools when considering the inspection reform process. The answers provided below are details from the review itself and have been identified from international research or other evidence of best practice and suggested as part of the review’s recommendations to Welsh Government.

The next step in the process is to see how this review with its 34 recommendations (also included on the link below), is received by Welsh Government.


1. How can Estyn balance ‘high stakes’ inspection with a more supportive approach to school improvement? By adding a more explicit advisory role to its work and promoting best practice and school improvement by advising teachers, principals and boards of management in schools. By replacing headline gradings with a continuum of descriptions of quality in the inspection report text. By linking Estyn inspectors to regional groupings of schools who will then work with the groups of schools in an advisory role.


2. How will Estyn accurately evaluate the impact school preparations and innovations for the new curriculum are having on pupil outcomes? By continuing to be part of the curriculum reform process. Inspectors would be expected to visit and engage with development in clusters of schools as part of a broader strategy of collaboration and professional learning, to support the curriculum reforms as they move from design to realisation. Estyn will inspect progress on:

  • How well the school is engaging with the purposes of the Curriculum for Wales
  • How well pupils are progressing in their learning and achieving appropriately high standards
  • How well developed the fundamental building blocks are for learning? i. the breadth, balance and appropriateness of the curriculum ii. the quality of learning and teaching iii. the wellbeing of all pupils
  • How well the school uses its self-evaluation and professional learning to identify its current strengths and set priorities for development


3. What will the change process look like for inspections in the interim period? The normal inspection process will be suspended for 2019-20 for all schools, except those with identified concerns. Schools in follow-up will be considered on a case by case basis. Thematic inspection activity will continue as normal. On resumption of the inspection process in 2020, significant progress would be expected from all schools. There will be a recognition that schools will arrive at a full maturation point in terms of self-evaluation at different times, therefore the adoption of the reformed inspection model will be phased in at a pace that matches confidence in progress towards a self-improving system.


4. How will the inspection process move from being a one-size fits all approach to one that takes account of issues like the capacity schools have to improve? By using regionally based peer inspectors to help inform inspection judgements with a greater depth of knowledge of specific issues such as levels of capacity for improvement. By using diagnostic inspections for schools identified as causing concern with the option of instituting targeted procedures similar to current special measures. By using school’s self-evaluation judgements on the reformed common framework as a starting point for the inspection process.


5. How will the process change for schools requiring a follow-up to inspection? The move away from headline grades will require a different basis for determining follow-up and should be less formulaic and more tailored in its approach. A diagnostic inspection will then be instigated which will be more developed and deeper than current inspection arrangements to allow a clear agenda for improvement to be established and may include the use of improvement conferences.


6. How will narrative descriptions rather than grades be quality assured for fairness and reliability? By using a continuum of descriptions of quality in the inspection report text. The report narrative should identify strengths, issues and areas for development and improvement clearly.


7. How will the inspection build upon the school’s self-evaluation to form judgements about quality? By using the inspection process to validate or not the school’s own self-evaluation. This will require a deeper and longer engagement with teaching & learning” as part of the inspection process. It will use quantitative, qualitative and proxy evidence to measure success in terms of standards.


8. How will Estyn inspectors be supported to make the philosophical shift from inspection focussed on assurance to one with a balanced approach to both assurance and support? Estyn would ensure that inspectors themselves develop the necessary understanding and expertise that the reforms are seeking to promote. The suspension in the inspection process during 2019-20 will provide the space and capacity to release the necessary resources to complete this task. Peer inspectors will be jointly trained by Estyn and regional consortia


9. How will the reform of the inspection process support a real move towards schools becoming the prime movers in their own improvement? Through reform of the accountability and monitoring system in Wales. The report narrative should identify strengths, issues and areas for development and improvement clearly, so they can be an explicit indicator of school improvement actions required. This removal of headline grading in inspection reports will be reflected in changes to the role of regional consortia and, in particular, to methods of determining support through a reformed categorisation model. Schools will be required to report publicly on their own self-evaluation process and findings. Peer reviewers and regional consortia staff will engage routinely with schools during self-evaluation, to support their pursuance of school improvement priorities identified.


The full report can be downloaded here: https://www.estyn.gov.wales/sites/default/files/documents/A%20Learning%20Inspectorate%20-%20en%20-%20June%202018.pdf

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