Estyn Annual Report - an analysis

6 Steps to Effective School Improvement

The publication today of Estyn’s Annual Report has been followed by a number of news articles on the improvement that has been seen in schools in Wales in 2016/17. Although interesting, if you’re currently working in a school as a leader or teacher, it’s not actually that helpful.

We believe in making a difference. So, our blog will outline key strategies as described by Estyn that the best schools are taking to improve across all areas. We’ve also included the most important questions for each step so that you can find out what more you could be doing in order to have an impact on the learning of your pupils. If you want to use Estyn’s Annual Report to make a difference in your school……. read on!

The report covers 8 key areas for school improvement:

  • Foundation Phase
  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • ICT & Digital Skills
  • Effects of Disadvantage
  • Welsh Language Provision
  • School to School Collaboration
  • Improving Leadership

Estyn's Annual Report shows the best schools are approaching these areas using common strategies that lead to a positive impact on pupil learning. All of the above areas have shown an measurable improvement since 2010 apart from Leadership which has remained unchanged. Below we have outlined these common approaches in a 6 step improvement cycle, all of which is backed by Estyn's inspection judgements.

Step One – Understand your starting point. This means effective self-evaluation processes. Just as self-awareness is the first and most important step towards emotional intelligence, a real, deep understanding of where your school, staff and pupils are, and what needs to improve is crucial. Using one type of evidence is not enough to gain a real depth of understanding. Using exam results or standardised tests has its limits. Estyn shows how the best schools use book scrutiny to check for progress, lesson observations, professional discussions etc. to get as complete a picture as possible, so you really understand what the problems are.

· What does excellent look like for the area you are evaluating?

· How many different types of evidence do you use during self-evaluation processes?

· How do you ensure your self-evaluation process is objective and gets to the root of any concerns?

Step Two – Prioritise. Estyn describes effective continuous provision in Foundation Phase as giving pupils the chance to practise the skills they are beginning to learn. They cite mastery as a key component of excellent numeracy provision across phases and subjects. In ICT and provision for Digital Skills, Estyn shows how the best schools clearly understand how using Digital Competence will have a positive impact on pupils’ ability to collaborate and communicate. Doing anything well, means prioritising in order to gain mastery. The same is true for school improvement and professional learning. Knowing what to do first, comes from knowing what will have the greatest impact and what pupils need the most.

· Which of the 4 purposes for the new Curriculum for Wales do your pupils need the most?

· Which is the improvement area or strategy that will have the biggest impact on pupils’ learning?

Step Three – Set your vision, know what you want to achieve. In all 8 areas described in the Annual Report, improvement and excellence is unequivocally linked with having a clear vision. Estyn acknowledges the importance of clear, strategic leadership in all areas of development. This means knowing what excellence looks like, knowing how you are going to get there and communicating it well. Make sure everyone fully understands, can articulate and has bought into the vision for improvement.

· What is the goal?

· What does it look like in terms of practice, systems, processes, expertise?

· What steps do you need to take to get there?

Step Four – Involve & empower people. Estyn recognises the best schools don’t do things alone. They include all of their staff, their pupils, parents, governors and the wider community. Estyn also shows how the best schools have a focus on empowering staff and learners. Creating a culture of professional learning where everyone contributes to the process is cited again and again as the key to deep, meaningful and sustainable improvement. Cultural change can be very slow. However, as we move towards a self-improving system in Wales, empowering staff to contribute through both individual and collaborative professional learning increases the success and impact of improvement strategies.

· Who is involved in the improvement strategy? Have we included staff, parents, pupils, governors, other schools or the wider community?

· How are we using the input of all contributors to drive forward improvement?

Step Five – Know how well you are doing. Estyn states that schools who struggle to improve, see the self-evaluation process as a one-off event. Monitoring how well you are doing towards reaching your goal should be a continual process. The best provisions use tracking processes that they have often designed themselves, but that always focus on providing information on how well pupils' real needs are being addressed. Continual evaluation, monitoring and tracking of strategies and pupil progress is cited as excellent practice. Using feedback from a range of quantitative and qualitative data to inform the improvement journey is crucial.

Creating independent learners is an area currently underdeveloped in Foundation Phase provision with only 25% of schools implementing the FP. In inspection of ICT & digital skills using pupils as digital leaders to support teacher expertise and collaborative learning is cited as excellent practice. Creating leaders at all levels including developing leadership skills amongst pupils again is seen as best practice. So, handing responsibility to pupils for co-creation of specific success criteria and identification of next steps, should be included in effective monitoring systems.

· How will we know if what we are doing has worked?

· How will we make our monitoring and tracking system manageable in terms of workload and useful in terms of output?

· How are we involving pupils in the evaluation process?

Step Six – Repeat.

It is encouraging to know that since 2010 Estyn has judged schools in Wales as improving. There are some limiting factors that Estyn has noted that will constrict the improvement cycle. Accountability measures are, Estyn feels, having a detrimental effect on the quality of secondary provision. Primary schools have more freedom to innovate and therefore improve quality, as the pressure from external examinations is less. As Estyn says:

“The best schools develop learners’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes to learning by capturing their interest and commitment through engaging learning experiences. They develop the confidence of learners so that they become well-rounded individuals, ready for further study and employment, and for contributing to society, as well as doing well in examinations.”

So, the review of accountability currently underway by Welsh Government will have a direct effect on the capacity for schools in Wales to improve education for children.

Estyn also notes those schools most in need of school improvement support, have the least capacity to benefit from the collaborative professional learning opportunities of the self-improving system model. There are parallels with the need for novices or weaker learners for direct instruction to support improvement as opposed to discovery learning or co-operative learning.

We hope that our analysis of Estyn’s Annual Report has condensed the evidence from inspections in a format that will have the greatest impact on school improvement in your school, but also on your pupils’ learning. We have a wealth of resources, analysis and research focussed on school improvement in Wales. If you would like to find out more about how to access these resources or our bespoke support for school improvement in Wales, just drop us a line to

We do the hard work, so you don’t have to!

Impact School Improvement Ltd

Who are we? - We are Finola & Jane, Literacy & Numeracy specialists, with 35+ years of teaching, training & leadership experience between us.

What's our experience? - We have both worked for Welsh Government supporting schools & senior leaders across Wales. We have held senior leadership posts, delivered support to strategic education advisers, and published curriculum support guidance with Oxford University Publishing...but if you need to know more visit our website for testimonials from schools we've worked with.

Why should you book our support? - Put simply, because we believe in impact. We do exactly what our name suggests. Our workshop keeps things simple and ensures school actions really work. Our focus is always on delivering measurable impact for pupils.