School inspectorate Estyn will publish a report in the autumn looking at the work of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on pupils' wellbeing and learning.

When schools shut suddenly in March on-site Estyn inspections halted too. Even before coronavirus struck this term was meant to be the last term of inspections as usual across Wales for a year as Estyn had been preparing to embark on major changes in any case.

The usual inspections were to be halted for a year from September 2020 to allow schools breathing space as they work towards introducing the new curriculum.

Estyn would have kept in touch with them to discuss how plans for the new curriculum are going. That won’t happen now. Instead Estyn will halt inspections to ask schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) how they are working in the new world of “blended” learning at home and school.

“Instead of focusing on how prepared schools are for the curriculum we’ll initially be finding out about the impact the current crisis has had on the wellbeing and learning of their pupils and on their future plans," chief inspector of schools in Wales Meilyr Rowlands said.

While education minister Kirsty Williams has confirmed the new curriculum will go ahead on schedule – despite calls by some to delay it while staff tackle the changes wrought by coronavirus – Estyn must turn its attention to schools' work in lockdown and blended learning at home and in the classroom.

From September inspectors will talk to schools by phone and in virtual meetings to look at how they are coping in the “new normal” with an emphasis on pupil and staff wellbeing. They have already begun to do that this term to some extent.

Estyn said it will publish a report in the autumn covering the national picture drawing on engagement it has had with schools during the pandemic and its impact on pupils' wellbeing and learning.

Estyn's chief inspector for schools Meilyr Rowlands
Estyn's chief inspector for schools Meilyr Rowlands

Mr Rowlands said he recognised it has been an “anxious time” for learners, parents, and school staff.

“Our main priority at the moment is the wellbeing of learners, staff, and the community and over the past few months our inspectors have been speaking to head teachers and governors across Wales to listen to their views and concerns.

“We’ve also been supporting schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) by working closely with local authorities, consortia, and Welsh Government to develop advice and guidance on school business and continuing learning for children and young people.

“We’re sticking to the plan we made before the pandemic to engage with all schools and PRUs from September for a year rather than inspecting a sample of schools.

“But instead of focusing on how prepared schools are for the curriculum we’ll initially be finding out about the impact the current crisis has had on the wellbeing and learning of their pupils and on their future plans.

Schools in Wales during coronavirus

“Our overriding aim as an inspectorate now is to support the Welsh education system and to provide government ministers with independent and objective evidence and advice.

“We will continue to keep in touch with providers remotely while they are physically closed for education.

“We will not inspect maintained schools next academic year. Instead, after a suitable period for re-adjustment, inspectors will visit schools to listen to concerns and to identify what is working well.

“The purpose of our current conversations with schools and these future engagement visits is to gain a national picture and not to judge the approaches of individual schools, to gather intelligence on the education system as a whole, and to gauge the immediate and longer-term impact of the coronavirus crisis on learning and on the wellbeing of pupils and staff.”

Estyn will also not continue with formal monitoring visits for schools and other providers in follow-up categories.

“These are uncertain times and we are committed to being supportive and flexible in the way we gather and provide intelligence and advice for government,” said Mr Rowlands.

An Estyn spokesman added: “We’ve been talking informally to head teachers to see how they are managing at the moment and to listen to their views and concerns.

“We’ve discussed wellbeing issues, the practicalities of distance learning, school reopening, and how we could provide further guidance.”

Estyn said it has been "working closely" with local authorities, school improvement consortia, and the Welsh Government since the pandemic started and has contributed to a range of guidance documents published to support schools and PRUs on continuing with school business.

Earlier this month Estyn jointly published a document with regional consortia on developing work to support blended learning at home and school.

The advice doesn’t stipulate a preferred or expected approach nor does it specify how many days learners should spend at home or school.

“It should be used by schools to develop their approach to blended learning when pupils spend some time in school and some time at home,” the inspectorate said.

Estyn is also helping schools evaluate their provision including blended learning and communicating.

Specific areas of discussion include safeguarding, the operational challenges of re-opening, support for vulnerable learners, Welsh language needs, communication with parents, and the support available to them.

Short examples of how schools and PRUs across Wales have been adapting their work have been published to promote good practice.