School inspections in Wales will be partially suspended to allow them to plan for the new curriculum .

All inspections of well performing maintained schools will stop for a year from September 2020 to August 2021, under proposals from the Welsh Government.

Education watchdog Estyn will still inspect what the government describes as “schools causing concern” as well as local authorities and independent schools.

The move follows a recommendation from the architect of the new curriculum, Professor Graham Donaldson, that inspections be halted for a year.

“In order to allow for these changes to take place, the Welsh Government will be consulting on extending the current inspection cycle from seven to eight years,” the Welsh Government said in a statement. .

“This would mean there would be a partial suspension in school inspections from September 2020- August 2021.”

Revised inspection arrangements will be phased in from September 2021 but this will be a gradual process over a period of years – helping schools to adapt to the new curriculum whilst maintaining and raising standards.

After the temporary halts Estyn inspectors would be in schools more than once within a seven year cycle from 2021 “ providing more frequent assurances to parents and the wider community about the standards being achieved and priorities for improvement”, the Welsh Government added.

It said the partial suspension of inspections will also give Estyn time to play a greater role helping schools to prepare for the new curriculum.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “An effective Inspectorate is one that provides assurance that standards are being met, whilst also supporting schools to maintain improvement.

“The proposed changes are part of a broader culture change that we need to see in our schools – and culture change always takes time. There is no big-bang approach when it comes to an issue like this.

“We are moving to a model of evaluation and improvement more in line with high performing education systems across the worl d. What remains constant is our focus on raising standards and attainment for all.

“Estyn will have a crucial role in making this happen and that’s why they should have a greater role in supporting schools both prior to and following the roll out of the new curriculum.”

Colin Skinner, a head teacher in Cardiff for 22 years before retiring from Roath Park Primary in 2018, says Estyn brings “fear and dread into every classroom”.

Estyn chief inspector Meilyr Rowlands, said: “We will soon be launching a consultation to gather views on all of today’s proposals before we implement any changes.”

 

David Evans, Wales Secretary for the National Education Union Cymru said: "Our members would be concerned about changes which could include more inspections by Estyn in our schools. Estyn inspections can cause an increase in stress and workload, and move the focus away from learning, which should be the most important thing for everyone in education.”

Responding to the Education Minister Kirsty Williams’ suggestion that Estyn will be in schools more than once during the seven year Estyn cycle, David Evans added: "The minister has said that wellbeing is important for education professionals and learners. We can't see how this fits with an increase in inspections.

"Donaldson's Review of Estyn was largely welcome, and moved much more towards a self-evaluation model, and a more supportive relationship.  We are pleased to see the pause is still there, as this is critical to implementing the new curriculum.

"We will of course be responding to the consultation when Estyn hold it, and hope that that is meaningful, and reflects the views of the education professionals involved."

The announcement follows last year’s independent review of Estyn’s future role. The review made recommendations for how inspection could be refocused to support improvement in standards.

The report by Prof Graham Donaldson was commissioned by Estyn and the Welsh government to consider the future of inspections in the light of the the new curriculum being rolled out in Welsh schools from 2022.

It said there are concerns about a“high-stakes” system of measuring schools’ performance and recommended schools moving towards self-evaluation.

The report recommended a temporary pause to the inspection cycle to allow inspectors and schools to focus on the new curriculum, and free up Estyn staff to work directly with schools on the reforms.

After the suspension of inspections they should resume with more emphasis on schools self-evaluating and ditching graded inspection reports. This means school performance would no longer be ranked as excellent, good, adequate or unsatisfactory,as they are now . Instead inspectors’ verdicts should be explained in the text, the report proposed.

Unions and education commentators have broadly welcomed the move to make Estyn less feared and more of a “critical friend”.

Last month recently retired primary head teacher Colin Skinner launched an unprecedented public attack on the school inspectorate body Estyn.

Mr Skinner, a head teacher in Cardiff for 22 years before retiring from Roath Park Primary last summer, said Estyn brings “fear and dread into every classroom”.

“From the Welsh Government through to the four local consortia and on to the 22 local education authorities. All bring pressure to bear if schools are found wanting in some way.

“Added to this blame culture is Estyn, the shark of the system who bring fear and dread into every classroom when it visits periodically. This stifles creativity and narrows the teaching and learning so that it fits into what Estyn sees as successful schools."