Estyn is failing fewer schools

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Wales has only one failing school compared to 238 in England, and only five others with serious weaknesses, say Estyn inspectors.

In an exclusive interview in today's TES, education minister Jane Davidson says she is proud of the figures. But an academic claims there are struggling schools in Wales that would be put in special measures by England's inspection agency Ofsted.

The number classed as failing equates to 0.05 per cent of Welsh schools, compared to 1.1 per cent of English schools.

While the pass rate for five good GCSEs in Wales lags behind England's (see page 3), the percentage of classes with good and satisfactory standards is higher in Wales. Ofsted's latest report shows 70 per cent of lessons in secondary schools met this standard, compared with 83 per cent in Wales .

Ms Davidson suggests Welsh schools benefit from a close relationship with their local education authorities. But for one Wales-based academic, who requested anonymity, the disparity is down to the ethos at Estyn.

"There are a number of schools in Wales that would have been put into special measures if they were in England. It's just the inspection regime.

"In Wales there's much more empathy. It's down to the direction given by the chief inspector and the minister. Their belief is that you don't name and shame and you put schools into special measures as a last resort,." he said.

He adds: "The inspection process is equally rigorous but its outcomes are not as stark - unless it's an extreme case."

There is a similar disparity in the number of schools judged to have serious weaknesses. In the year to July, 286 English schools, or 1.2 per cent, were in this category. In the same period just 13 Welsh schools were put on the list and that number has since dropped to five, or 0.27 per cent.

Iwan Guy, acting director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, says: "Estyn's not punitive, it's had a totally different outlook."

Estyn is continuing to put a big emphasis on school self-evaluation, something Ofsted is also developing. But it is alone in pushing a peer assessor scheme which envisages a trained senior teacher on every inspection team. Sixty peer assessors will take part in the 102 inspections planned this term.

Geraint Davies, secretary of the NASUWT Cymru, dismissed the suggestion that this made Estyn softer than Ofsted.

"Although no teacher in Wales looks forward to an inspection, the framework has become much more teacher and school-friendly. There's a genuine will within Estyn for the inspection system to be supportive rather than destructive," he said.

An Estyn spokesperson said its inspectors are trained to focus on the specific criteria for judging whether schools require additional support, including special measures. Such schools are rigorously monitored by HMI, who discuss progress with school and LEA managers.

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