“The overall picture shows that there is much to be proud of in the Welsh education system.”
By Robin Hughes, Consultant, GL Assessment
The independent inspectorate of schools and learning providers in Wales, Estyn, published its 2016-17 annual report earlier this week.
Like every year, the report analyses Estyn’s experiences of education and training in Wales during the previous year.
This latest report also marks the last year of a seven year cycle of inspections. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, Meilyr Rowlands, takes the opportunity to reflect on over 2,700 inspections where every provider in Wales was inspected at least once. There’s also a special focus on key education policies pursued by Welsh Government over the last seven years.
In many ways, the review of 2016-2017 offers a familiar story. As the report says: “Inspection findings this year are broadly similar to those for the cycle as a whole. Seven-in-ten primary schools inspected this year are good or excellent, similar to last year, while half of secondary schools inspected are good or excellent, a bit better than last year.”
But, there’s a twist in the tale. The tone of the report is not familiar. It is noticeably upbeat. Positive.
Mr Rowlands HMCI says in his Foreword: “Over the seven years and including all sectors, 77% of inspection judgements were good or better (71% good and 6% excellent) and 23% were less than good (20% adequate and 3% unsatisfactory). This overall picture shows that there is much to be proud of in the Welsh education system.”
This positive tone is noteworthy because the data shows little progress in inspection judgements over the last seven years and the analysis describes challenges to improvement that are significant.
One reason given for why performance in primary might be better than in secondary is that accountability mechanisms affect practice – there are schools where teachers too often teach to the test. And, of course, this is not teaching for learning.
In other words, accountability that puts great emphasis on exam performance leads to pressure that means “some secondary schools focus too much on teaching examination techniques rather than on providing a broad education that better serves the long-term interests of learners.”
In contrast, though, “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. That schools that ‘teach to the test’ may achieve relative examination success also raises questions about whether current qualifications examine the right skills and whether they reward learners’ broader understanding and critical thinking enough.”
This is a bit of a tease as Estyn reminds us that they will be reporting later this year on the recently introduced new GCSEs in Wales, including English and Mathematics. I’d hazard a guess that Estyn’s review of the new GCSEs may have an influence on the next generation of GCSEs, due for redevelopment in 2020 to reflect the emerging new curriculum.
This new curriculum, it is said, will require a new approach to assessment generally. Assessment will focus more on helping learners to understand how they are performing and what they need to do next. Teachers will be encouraged to adopt assessment for learning practice. Assessment of learning by external examination will be made less intrusive by being just one of a number of accountability measures.
In presenting his report, Mr Rowlands says that a shift towards greater collaboration is a prominent trend in the sector. Schools supporting other schools, Local Authorities working in consortia, and the Welsh Government developing a new curriculum with practitioners.
He concludes that there is "enough excellence across Welsh education to support improvement and help reduce variability.”
The report is 214 pages long. It includes a focus on 8 policy areas, specific sector summaries and provides a scattering of case studies from well-judged providers with material such as key question prompts that others might use to raise standards. If you want an at-a-glance guide, see here for a useful summary for providers from consultants, Impact Wales.
Follow Robin on Twitter @RobinHughes66
This article was published in the Western Mail on 1/2/18