New inspections may increase workload pressures

School leaders who piloted revised framework say self-assessment may prove a heavy burden

Darren Evans

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Original paper headline: New inspections could increase workload pressures, say heads

Two headteachers whose primary schools were among the first to trial Estyn's new inspection framework have given the process a cautious welcome.

Huw Thomas, head of Ysgol Niwbwrch Primary on Anglesey, and Lynda Newton, head of Tyn-Y-Wern Primary near Caerphilly, both said the new inspection was a "positive experience", but warned that the self-assessment requirement could put extra pressure on under-prepared school leaders.

Estyn's new inspection framework, which comes into force in September this year, will make visits to schools shorter and more streamlined, with a greater emphasis on self-assessment and evaluation.

Schools will be given just four weeks' notice of inspection visits, but only a selected number of teachers and lessons will be observed.

Inspections will be based on three key questions instead of seven, and inspectors will make two overall key judgments on the school's performance and its prospects for improvement.

The changes were generally welcomed by teachers' leaders, although some were concerned about the impact on heads' workload. Schools will still be inspected every six years as before.

Ten schools and a further education college are being inspected as part of the initial pilot stage, which started last September and ends in the spring.

Niwbwrch and Tyn-Y-Wern became the first schools to undergo the new procedure when inspectors visited last October. Their inspection reports were published this week.

Both were rated "good" in each of the three key areas - outcomes, provision, and leadership and management - and the two overall key judgments.

Mr Thomas said he was "very pleased" with the findings for Niwbwrch, but warned fellow heads that preparing for the inspection would need a "great deal of work".

"A large amount of the self- assessment relies on the head," he said. "It had to be non-descriptive and focus on what the school had done and the effects of our procedures. I didn't find that particularly easy.

"Although it will undoubtedly put a greater pressure on heads than the current inspections system, it shouldn't be too difficult if you know how your school is doing and where it is going."

But Ms Newton said she found there was less preparation than under the old inspection system.

"We have been carrying out self-assessments for a long time and we always keep up-to-date pupil profiles, so we didn't find there was too much extra work," she said. "Perhaps not every school has that data and evidence available, in which case it would be more difficult."

Both heads welcomed the new pre-inspection commentary, which highlighted the areas that inspectors wanted to take a closer look at.

Mr Thomas also praised the lighter lesson observation schedule, which he said would ease the pressure on classroom teachers.

An Estyn spokeswoman said feedback from schools and inspection teams taking part in the pilot inspections had been positive.

She added: "We have identified some minor issues to amend and the learning process is still ongoing, but overall we are happy with the response."

Revised framework

Under the new framework, inspection reports must include a "stakeholder satisfaction report" compiled from questionnaires completed by parents and pupils.

Overall, parents at Niwbwrch Primary on Anglesey expressed positive views about the school and were satisfied with the way it was run and how their children were looked after.

While most of the pupils said they were well taught and well supported, a large number were concerned about the bad behaviour of other pupils, which many felt put them off their work.

Headteacher Huw Thomas said this conflicted with what most parents had said about behaviour, but promised to address the concerns.

Pupils at Tyn-Y-Wern Primary, near Caerphilly, also voiced concern about the behaviour of others during break and lunchtimes, but almost all said they were well supported by staff.

Parents felt the school was well run and found the staff approachable, although some were concerned about behaviour and were unaware of the complaints procedure.

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Darren Evans

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