As we know from September 2017 Estyn have made a number of significant changes to the common inspection framework. In future, teams will now focus on the most important aspects of education and training in the five key areas of: standards; well-being and attitudes to learning; teaching and learning experiences; care support and guidance and leadership and management. Whilst schools will be getting their heads around the new framework, it is perhaps an interesting time to consider the impact of the mere mention of the word “Estyn”, which sends headteachers into a cold sweat of evidence gathering nausea. The impact of “the call” sends social lives and in many cases commonsense out of the window; schools prepare frantically by rewriting SIPs and SERs and ferret about looking for relevant evidence in order to be ‘fully’ prepared for the moment the friendly inspector calls to pass judgement!
Whether we care to openly admit it or not, the quality of teaching provided for our children has improved greatly since the beginning of Estyn. Whilst this may be a contentious statement, for the many headteachers who have lost sleep over the impending doom of inspection, it is, in my humble opinion true! Please don’t mistake me, I’m quick to recognise that there have been many other factors that have contributed to this improvement. However, the Estyn framework continues to provide school leaders and teachers with a consistent framework with which they can judge standards. This has been in its own time helpful.
As the Strategic Adviser for Closing the Gap for this region, I am heartened by many aspects of the draft framework and the potential positive impact on outcomes for eFSM pupils. But this will leave schools with many challenges and potential sleepless nights that they have yet to perhaps consider. Let me explain:
In the new framework the move to consider progress as well as attainment is excellent news for those schools in our most deprived areas. As we know when the pendulum swings from attainment to achievement, those schools in areas of high deprivation get greater recognition for the value added they achieve with their children. But this in itself does produce new challenges. It does mean that school leaders need to accurately baseline their pupils and forensically track vulnerable groups from one phase to another during their time in school. Inspectors will evaluate particular groups including those with reduced timetables or those who are regularly receiving education off-site. School leaders need to ensure they have accurately identified specific groups of pupils and that they are making as much progress as they could do in relation to the starting point for their age and their ability.
Pupils from more deprived backgrounds inevitably have less developed communication skills. However, inspectors will be considering the extent to which the levels of pupils’ communication and higher-order thinking skills support or hinder their progress in classroom interaction. This means schools must consider how they are teaching oracy and higher order thinking. Strategies such as Philosophy for Children will now be actively recognised in Estyn inspections, fantastic news for eFSM learners.
Well-being and attitudes to learning
Section 2 of the new common inspection framework places well-being at the heart of everything schools do. Pupils eligible for free school meals often have lower levels of self-esteem, are less likely to undertake physical activities and are far less resilient. The new inspection framework states that inspectors will “ be specifically looking for opportunities for learners to undertake physical activity, for example PE lessons, break and lunchtime activities and through after-school clubs.” They will also “consider how well all pupils show confidence and resilience in their lives, for example, in the way they interact with new people and adults.” Whilst incredibly difficult to measure and evidence in a school self-evaluation report Estyn have clearly placed learner resilience alongside academic achievement. A move I welcome as a Strategic Adviser, but a challenge for many schools, who focused predominantly on outcomes. Likewise pupils’ attitudes to learning are given a high priority, how schools will support vulnerable pupils to be ambitious, confident, capable and independent learners will be a challenge. This means schools must consider carefully how they develop the resilience of their learners and moreover how they effectively evidence the impact of this work.
The Education Endowment Foundation
As we know the Education Endowment Foundation sets out the evidence of strategies that disproportionately impact on eFSM pupils. Strategies that close the attainment gap are typically: quality first teaching; feedback; self-regulating behaviours; metacognition and of course ability grouping, which the Sutton Trust identifies as having a negative impact on learners’ development. These strategies permeate the new Estyn common inspection framework. The draft guidance indicates that inspectors will be looking for:
- The extent to which teachers have high expectations of all pupils;
- The way in which teachers make classes stimulating and engaging where all groups of pupils, including the most and least able can learn productively;
- Evaluate how well the oral and written feedback from teachers helps pupils know how well they are doing;
- Inspectors should consider the nature and extent of learning outside the classroom that links directly to the planned curriculum;
- The use of intervention strategies in the mentoring and coaching of individual groups should be considered;
- Inspectors should examine arrangements for pupil grouping through setting or mixed ability grouping and consider whether the arrangements have a positive impact on pupils’ learning and experiences; and
- Inspectors should consider the extent to which schools actively help to develop parents’ capacity to support their own children.
In a nutshell whilst the mention of the ‘E word’ might still bring headteachers out into a cold sweat, and 15 days between the call and inspection might induce 15 sleepless nights. It is important to recognise the progressive nature of the new framework and the importance Estyn are placing on the progress of vulnerable learners, which will undoubtedly challenge schools and deepen their thinking about how they are effectively closing the gaps. Perhaps there is a bright future when the friendly Estyn inspector is welcomed into the school as an essential part of school improvement planning?