The Welsh Government has confirmed that it is ditching the only publicly-available system measuring school performance. Annual school colour categorisation, paused during the pandemic, is being axed.
The Welsh Government said a new “school improvement framework” will set out what schools and others in the education system ‘must’ and ‘should’ do for evaluation, improvement, and accountability.
The new system, coming in to coincide with the new curriculum from next term, is less judgemental with a focus on where schools need to improve, the Welsh Government said. Under the new scheme a summary of each school’s improvement priorities and a development plan will be made public and published – schools will be asked to look at themselves and explain their strengths, weaknesses, and improvement plans.
Education minister Jeremy Miles said pupil assessment and school accountability “have too often been blurred” and the new framework separates them. Schools will have a development plan they are working towards with help from local education authorities, regional school improvement consortia and, in the case of faith schools, diocesan authorities.
The 44-page document explains how and what schools should look at including progression, wellbeing, and addressing attainment gaps. The “school improvement framework” says pupils’ progression is key. It suggests all schools ask themselves whether the speed of progress is in line with the expectations of their teachers and the new curriculum being rolled out from September.
On changes to Estyn inspections the document adds: “Schools will be inspected more regularly by Estyn… Inspection reports will have sufficient explanatory narrative about the effectiveness of schools, supporting schools’ processes for improvement in response to inspections, and giving parents and carers a good understanding of schools’ effectiveness without including summative judgements.”
The guidance adds that schools data, such as exam results, without context can be misleading. It states: “There is considerable public interest in information about schools. The provision of information to the public is for transparency. It is not for accountability.”
It says from now on: “Parents, carers, and learners will be able to access standardised information that is available for all schools (which will include a range of contextual information and external qualifications data where relevant to the school) along with information that is specific to their school (for example Estyn reports and summary development plans).”
During the pandemic various performance measures were ceased. Schools did not have to report or run school tests, exam results, or attendance figures on their prospectuses. So what do the changes mean for those wanting to see how well schools are doing?
People will be able to find information explained in each school’s context in:
Education unions and head teachers welcomed the end of the widely-disliked colour-coding school league table, which they said was too blunt to be useful to help schools improve and pitted one against another. Mr Miles said pupil assessment and school accountability “have too often been blurred” and the new framework separates them.
“Assessment is about understanding an individual pupil’s needs and accountability is about how the school’s overall performance is evaluated. But the difference between the two has become blurred, which can have a detrimental effect on teaching and learning,” he said.
“By bringing national categorisation to an end we are doing two things. First, replacing it with a framework which sets out clear expectations so that every pupil is supported properly. And second, providing better and more up-to-date information on each school’s improvement plans so that the focus is on learner progression rather than on headline descriptions. I’m confident that this framework will encourage more collaboration between schools, which will deliver high standards and aspirations for all our learners and support their wellbeing.”
Estyn has been piloting its new inspections this term and from September will inspect all schools under its new framework with plans to increase the number of visits from September 2024. Chief inspector Owen Evans has also said he is in favour of unannounced visits. Currently schools are inspected every seven years and can have as little as two weeks notice.
Mr Evans said Estyn would continue to inspect schools and make judgements based on a wide range of evidence and information. “We are here to provide accountability across education providers in Wales and will continue to work rigorously to ensure all learners get the education and training they deserve – monitoring schools through follow-up if standards aren’t high enough.
“We have made a number of changes to our inspection approach in schools and pupil referral units, including the presentation of inspection reports which will see the removal of summative gradings and the addition of a key overview of findings focussed on a school’s strengths and areas for development. We are confident that this approach will offer meaningful insights which will help providers to improve without shining the spotlight on a judgement.”