Review of Estyn makes 34 recommendations for change

Written by: Robin Hughes | Published:
Image: iStock

All inspections suspended for a year, grading to be scrapped, and a focus on validating schools’ self-evaluation are among the recommendations for change in a significant independent review into inspectorate Estyn, published last week.

Professor Graham Donaldson was commissioned by Estyn and the education secretary in Wales, Kirsty Williams, to review the inspectorate’s role and function in the context of the major reform programme underway in Wales between now and 2021.

Prof Donaldson is the main architect of the new curriculum, due to be available for use in 2020.

A former teacher, Prof Donaldson headed the Inspectorate of Education in Scotland from 2002 to 2010.

His report – A Learning Inspectorate – makes 34 recommendations, covering Estyn’s governance, inspections and wider issues relating to accountability and improvements in a system undergoing substantial reform. The recommendations include:

  • A pause in inspection cycle for a year starting September 2019 to allow inspectors and schools to work together on incoming reforms.
  • More emphasis on schools evaluating their own performance with validation from Estyn.
  • Evaluative judgements in school inspection reports to be described with qualitative commentary and not as headline gradings.
  • A facility for stakeholders to request an inspection.
  • Estyn to deliver a “Quality of Education” in Wales report every three years in addition to amended annual report.

A further recommendation is for school inspection to focus on four key questions:

  • Engagement with the new curriculum.
  • Pupil progression, achievement and wellbeing.
  • Quality of learning and teaching.
  • Effectiveness of self-evaluation.

Prof Donaldson said: “A system that’s based on pressure – putting pressure on schools in order to get better – only takes you so far. On occasions that’s necessary – it’s important to put pressure on in order to bring about a change or to challenge complacency. But you don’t build high-quality education systems on fear.

“At the moment we have an approach to inspection and to accountability generally which is a very blunt instrument – every school gets the same, no matter how good that school might be.

What we need to do is take a much more tailored and refined programme that allows schools that can be creative and can serve the children well to be given the opportunity to do that and then ensure the resources of inspection are applied diagnostically to help those schools that are struggling to get better.”

Commenting on the report, David Evans, Wales secretary of the National Education Union, said: “If accepted and implemented, these recommendations will be a seismic shift in school inspection which will be largely welcomed.”

Meilyr Rowlands, the chief inspector at Estyn, said that they would now consult on the recommendations.

  • For the full report, entitled A Learning Inspectorate – Independent review of Estyn, visit


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