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Sector report

Independent mainstream


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Number of providers 2023

Core inspections

No. of core inspections: 4

Welsh-medium: 0

English-medium: 4

Case studies

No. of case studies: 1

Independent mainstream schools responded decisively to the pandemic and quickly established methods to ensure the effective continuation of learning and pastoral care. Consequently, when inspections resumed, we found that both pupil progress and well-being continued to be strong features of these schools. However, in all schools inspected leaders had yet to re-establish the full range of effective quality assurance work and, as a result, their self-evaluations did not always correctly identify the few areas that may benefit from improvement.

Pupils writing on a board

Teaching and learning

Across the schools visited, pupil progress was strong. Communication skills were a particular strength, with nearly all older pupils being articulate, confident and assured when speaking to visitors. Most pupils developed their reading skills well and younger pupils, in particular, exhibited an enjoyment of reading. Older pupils used their reading skills effectively to extract information and develop their understanding of subject contexts well.

In three of the schools visited, the standard of written English was strong. Younger pupils wrote confidently and at length in a variety of styles and had plentiful opportunities to re-draft and improve their work. Older pupils used well-understood processes to write extended pieces of work, often in response to examination questions. However, where writing was less secure, pupils did not consistently apply their writing skills accurately and, when writing in subjects across the curriculum, did not always write at the same high standard as they did in English lessons.

Overall, across the schools inspected, most pupils developed strong mathematical skills. The youngest pupils enjoyed using physical resources such as number cards or number rods. However, in one school, pupils did not always work at the same high standard or level of accuracy when applying their mathematical skills in subjects across the curriculum.

The progress of pupils’ digital skills was variable across the four schools. In one example this reflected the education philosophy of the school, where there is less of a focus on digital skills, especially among younger pupils. In one school, pupils developed outstanding independent life skills, while in the other three schools creative and artistic skills were particularly strong.

The strong progress made by pupils in the schools inspected was facilitated by a broad curriculum. This was frequently well tailored to the needs and interests of pupils. In one school, the curriculum was underpinned by a philosophy that focused predominantly on the development of skills and values for life-long learning. In another school, there was a strong focus on the outdoor environment as a resource to stimulate learning.

Staff in these schools knew their pupils’ needs, abilities and interests extremely well and built strong nurturing relationships with their classes. Lessons were well planned and well-paced, and used a range of stimulating resources. Teachers used a range of assessment strategies to understand pupils’ progress and provide timely feedback to move learning on. Where progress was less strong, this was most frequently because teachers overly scaffolded activities and did not provide pupils with enough opportunities to work independently.

Pupils and a teacher in a music room with guitars and keyboards in the background

Care, support and well-being

All schools inspected placed an extremely high priority on the well-being of their pupils. Working relationships between staff and pupils were nearly always respectful, caring and supportive. Staff knew their pupils very well and met their needs highly effectively. This promoted a strong sense of community.

Nearly all pupils were proud of their school and knew that they were cared for. Pupils were polite and considerate. Younger pupils co-operated well with each other, taking turns and waiting patiently to start an activity. Older pupils demonstrated confidence and made valuable contributions in lessons. Across the schools, pupils were encouraged to take responsibility for their learning and held positions of responsibility, which developed pupils’ leadership skills and their self-confidence. Pupils took pride in these positions.

Two schools had extensive outdoor areas that were well used to develop pupils’ understanding of their environment and the importance of a healthy body and a healthy mind.

Effective use of the outdoor environment at Treffos School

Treffos School focuses strongly on using the outdoor environment as a resource to stimulate learning. The school has extensive outdoor areas that are used well to develop pupils’ understanding of their environment and the importance of both a healthy body and a healthy mind.

A wide range of learning experiences happens outside including problem-solving activities such as bridge building and orienteering. Teachers make regular use of purposeful trips to local forests and beaches and use these well to stimulate further discussion and learning back at school.

Pupils are highly motivated and excited to learn in the outdoors. Activities such as growing vegetables in the garden or preparing dough to bake outdoors contribute positively to pupils’ well-being. Across the schools, most pupils demonstrated that they work well independently. They also enjoyed the opportunity to work in pairs and small groups, displaying strong levels of respect for one another. However, in one school in particular, few younger pupils exhibited resilience and the ability to improve on their work and learn from their mistakes.

One school visited had embedded a strong culture of safeguarding, whilst the other schools were working to embed a robust culture. The issues raised with schools generally related to record-keeping, for example about staff training.

Pupils sitting around a desk in a classroom

Leading and improving

For two of the schools inspected, this was their first core inspection since registration as an independent school. In another there had been a recent change of headteacher, whilst in the fourth school the leadership was well established. All schools fully complied with the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003.

Leaders in all four schools had a clear vision for their school and were ambitious for their pupils and had high expectations of their staff. In the two new schools, leaders had successfully established a family community to which pupils and parents have great loyalty and affection.

Leaders provided all staff with worthwhile opportunities to engage in professional learning. These included training specific to a pedagogical approach, training provided through membership of a school network and training specific to examination boards. However, professional learning was not always linked well enough to the individual development needs of staff.

In all schools inspected, we found shortcomings in the quality assurance and school improvement process. In two of the schools inspected, leaders had not yet reestablished their range of quality assurance activities following the period of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In another school, the comprehensive quality assurance activities lacked focus and frequently concentrated on provision rather than pupils’ progress. In the fourth school, much of the quality assurance work was conducted informally and not always recorded. As a result of these shortcomings, leaders’ development plans were not based upon strong evidence, had not identified the few areas that may benefit from development or did not focus well enough on improving pupils’ outcomes.