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Key themes

Inspection follow-up


Children climbing on some outdoor equipment

When inspectors identify serious shortcomings at the time of a core inspection, providers are placed in follow-up. Follow-up arrangements vary across sectors and can be found in ‘How we inspect’ guidance on our website.

Non-maintained settings

Estyn jointly inspects non-maintained settings with Care Inspectorate Wales. Inspection teams consider if settings require either joint focused improvement follow-up or Estyn only follow-up, which is called Estyn review. Guidance on follow-up arrangements in non-maintained settings can be found here.

Where settings were placed in joint focused improvement follow-up, recommendations highlighted the need for leaders and managers to:

  • strengthen the way they evaluate provision and address aspects that need to be improved
  • develop aspects such as the quality of teaching and use of observations to strengthen the provision for children
  • address the areas of non-compliance with regulations highlighted by the inspection team

During 2022-2023, five non-maintained settings were removed from joint focused improvement follow up. These providers had received recommendations relating to leadership and management, highlighting the need to develop their approach to self-evaluation and planning for improvement.

The key improvements inspectors noted when providers were removed from follow up included:

  • Leaders established clear roles and responsibilities, so that practitioners understood what was expected of them.
  • In some settings, leaders developed effective practice guidance to help practitioners understand how to support play and encourage learning.
  • Leaders had a far deeper understanding of the importance of evaluating provision and the impact on children’s experiences and progress. They considered the views of practitioners through regular informal conversations and team meetings.
  • Concise improvement plans included key priorities, which were broken down into reasonable time-related targets and included clear success criteria.
  • Leaders understood the value of professional learning and benefited from professional learning facilitated by partners such as the local authority’s early years advisory team, and umbrella organisations that provide advice and practical support for settings.
  • Leaders developed suitable systems for practitioner appraisal and supervision and, as a result, staff took on more responsibility for improvement.
Children carrying bags on their way to school

Maintained schools and PRUs

On every inspection, inspectors consider if the school or PRU is causing concern that may require placing it in a statutory category. If the school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school/PRU are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement of the school, it is placed in special measures. If inspectors conclude the school/PRU does not require special measures, inspectors consider if the school/PRU is performing significantly less well than it might in all circumstances reasonably be expected to perform. If this is the case, the school/PRU is placed in significant improvement. If inspectors have seriously considered placing a school or PRU in a statutory category but are concerned that follow-up is needed, they may consider placing the school in Estyn review. Guidance on follow-up arrangements in maintained schools and PRUs can be found here.

In the few schools requiring statutory follow-up, generally there were significant shortcomings in the quality of leadership and management. Too often, leaders did not share a clear vision or provide effective strategic direction to the school. Typically, leaders’ expectations of what pupils could achieve were not high enough and, as a result, they did not address shortcomings in pupils’ progress with sufficient urgency. The quality of classroom practice in these schools was weak or inconsistent and, as a result, pupils did not make the progress that they should or could. Often, the school had experienced a significant period of staffing turbulence and, too often, staff morale was low.

When schools and PRUs are placed into statutory follow-up, inspectors monitor their progress in addressing the recommendations from the core inspection. Initially, inspectors work with the school’s leadership and the local authority to support them to devise a post-inspection action plan (PIAP).

When a school requires special measures, inspectors continue to visit every four to six months, until such time as the school shows that it had the capacity to make improvements unsupported. During 2022-2023, inspectors made regular, termly monitoring visits to 18 schools in special measures. Over the course of the year, six schools (five secondary schools and one primary school) were removed from special measures.

Provider: Denbigh High School

Level of follow-up: Special measures

Removed: June 2023

Denbigh High School was inspected in November 2016. Because of shortcomings in leadership and teaching, pupils were not making enough progress, and the school required significant improvement. A monitoring visit 18 months later indicated that the school had not made sufficient improvement and it was placed in special measures.

Despite having a suitable post-inspection action plan and introducing a range of strategies designed to secure improvement, by the time of Estyn’s seventh monitoring visit in May 2022, the school had not made sufficient progress to be removed from follow-up. One of the factors restricting the school’s improvement was the fact that it had experienced several years of instability at senior leadership level.

When the current headteacher was appointed in September 2022, he prioritised establishing a culture of trust and collaboration. One of the most important aspects of his vision was that staff should work together on improvement strategies that were focused on pupil outcomes, rather than meeting any perceived requirements of Estyn monitoring teams. He recognised that inspectors are not looking for any specific type of strategy or approach, but instead are only interested in the impact that the school’s work has on pupils’ progress and well-being.

One of the key features of his approach was the introduction of the ‘Quality Enhancement’ process. This approach to self-evaluation and improvement planning used joint working between senior leaders, middle leaders and other staff – for example with book scrutiny and lesson observations – as its starting point. This helped teachers and leaders at all levels to come to a shared understanding of the specific strengths and areas for development of each subject area and individual teacher. Not only did this enable leaders to plan for improvement more precisely, the focus on ‘learning conversations’ rather than ‘top-down’ accountability helped to strengthen the developing culture of trust and collaboration.

Senior leadership roles were refined and realigned in order to match the school’s improvement priorities more closely and also to make best use of individual leaders’ skills and experience. Pastoral leadership was reorganised to help these leaders take a more coordinated and collaborative approach to supporting and improving pupil well-being. To address the recommendation regarding provision for the development of pupils’ skills, leaders began to take a more strategic and focused approach. This meant that individual subject areas concentrated on specific, designated skills areas, for example developing pupils’ ability to summarise information from a range of texts. This helped to increase the impact of this aspect of the school’s work.

These strengthened approaches increased the pace of improvement. In the monitoring visits that took place in 2022-2023, inspectors noted that teaching was increasingly challenging and engaging and was helping pupils to make better progress. As a result, the school was removed from special measures in June 2023.

Most of the schools requiring significant improvement make the necessary improvements in around eighteen months to two years. However, schools and PRUs requiring special measures normally take between two and five years to develop the capacity to improve and be removed from further monitoring activity. The amount of time is dependent on many factors, including the size of the school and the amount of staffing and leadership turbulence. Generally, once stable leadership and staff teams are in place, leaders galvanise staff to bring about steady, and occasionally rapid, improvements to the provision, which results in improvements to pupil outcomes and the removal from monitoring.

Malpas Church in Wales Primary School

Level of follow-up: Special measures

Removed: November 2022

Malpas Church in Wales Primary School was inspected in November 2019 and placed in special measures. Inspectors identified fractured relationships between staff and leaders, as well as a lack of a clear, strategic direction. The school’s tracking systems did not support leaders to identify whether all pupils were making the progress that they should. Leaders’ monitoring did not identify or address weak classroom practice.

During the spring term 2020, prior to the pandemic, an interim acting headteacher from a neighbouring school worked with the deputy headteacher for a term to create a suitable post-inspection action plan. In the autumn of 2020, an acting executive headteacher was appointed to lead the school for a year, while the governing body recruited a substantive headteacher.

The new headteacher took up his post in September 2021. This leadership stability enabled the school to redefine everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and to establish clear and agreed minimum expectations for classroom practice. Over the course of the year, the pace of improvement gathered momentum and staff and leaders at all levels worked together collaboratively. Strong channels of communication ensured that everyone was well informed and kept abreast of events. As a result, the school rapidly established a clear sense of community and identity, focused on improving the provision and outcomes for pupils.

In addition, leaders established regular professional learning events, alongside weekly staff and leadership meetings. They devised a series of essential guides that spelled out the robust expectations agreed by all staff, covering distinct aspects of the school’s provision. Consequently, the quality of classroom practice began to improve. Teachers raised their expectations of what their pupils could and should achieve. They worked together to develop the extensive outdoor space into a purposeful, well-used learning environment, and classrooms became productive, stimulating places to learn. The additional learning needs co-ordinator monitored the additional support that adults provided for pupils with additional learning needs and ensured that the provision matched their individual needs.

By the autumn 2022, following termly monitoring, inspectors noted that leaders and staff worked together constructively and productively to create a shared sense of purpose and ownership. They identified a developing pride in the quality of education that staff deliver, following improvements to the classroom provision. As a result, the school was removed from special measures in November 2022.

Secondary school age boys working at computers

Overview of recommendations from schools placed in statutory follow-up as a result of their core inspection:

As might be expected, inspectors often left recommendations for leadership to improve aspects of their work in schools and PRUs placed in statutory follow-up.


  • In all of these schools, inspectors left at least one recommendation related to improving the quality of leadership and management. Furthermore, around a half of these schools received two or more recommendations in this area. Generally, these identified a need to strengthen or stabilise leadership, clearly define roles and responsibilities and hold staff and leaders to account.
  • Messages around strengthening leaders’ impact on improving standards or elements of provision, for example the quality of teaching, were also a focus for recommendations in many of these schools.
  • A further prominent theme was the need to strengthen self-evaluation and improvement planning to ensure its impact on identifying what needed to be improved and how to deliver that improvement. Inspectors left this recommendation in around a half of the providers placed in special measures and most of those placed in significant improvement.

Recommendations around improving aspects of teaching and learning experiences were prevalent in all of the schools placed in statutory follow-up. Most received at least two recommendations relating to this inspection area.

  • The main theme from these recommendations was the need to provide appropriate challenge to pupils and to ensure that teachers plan to develop pupils’ skills systematically and cohesively (often linked to the recommendations the school received for learning).
  • Other recommendations from this area varied, including for example the need to improve the quality of teaching and assessment (for instance through establishing consistency across the school) and improving elements of the curriculum.
  • Additionally, nearly all of these schools received at least one recommendation related to learning and progress. These were invariably in relation to improving one or more of pupils’ core skills, such as numeracy, writing, reading or Welsh (or some form of combination of these).

There were fewer recommendations related to improving pupils’ well-being or the school’s systems for care, support and guidance.

  • Around a half of schools placed in statutory follow-up had a recommendation relating to safeguarding and safety issues identified during the inspection. The remainder of schools received recommendations either related to strengthening the provision to support pupils with ALN, or the provision to improve pupils’ attendance or behaviour.
  • There were very few recommendations to improve pupils’ well-being. However, a few schools placed in statutory follow-up received a recommendation to improve attendance and punctuality.

Overview of recommendations from schools requiring Estyn review as a result of their core inspection:

Nearly all of the schools and PRUs requiring Estyn review had a recommendation to improve the quality of leadership and management. In general, most of these recommendations focused on strengthening or sharpening the impact of leaders’ work to bring about improvements. Additionally, around a half of leadership recommendations for these schools and PRUs identified a requirement to strengthen the cycle of self-evaluation and improvement planning and activity. Most schools and PRUs requiring Estyn review had a recommendation to improve pupils’ standards, and many had a recommendation to improve teaching and provision. Around a half of the providers requiring Estyn review had a recommendation to strengthen their systems for care, support and guidance, or to improve pupils’ well-being and attitudes to learning.

Post inspection action plans and the local authority statement of action

Under the requirements of the Education Act 2005, where a school or pupil referral unit has been placed in the category of requiring significant improvement or in special measures, the school’s governing body or the PRU’s management committee is required to produce a post-inspection action plan (PIAP). Additionally, local authorities are required to prepare a written statement of action to support the school.

The action plan should set out the work proposed to enable the school to make sufficient improvement to address the deficiencies identified by Estyn as soon as possible. Schools should aim to make the required improvements within around a year of being found to require significant improvement, or within around two years for those requiring special measures. However, in practice this can often take longer, depending on each school’s individual circumstances.

The format of the action plan is a matter for schools. As a minimum, however, for each area for improvement (recommendation) identified in the inspection report, the action plan should specify:

  • the action the school proposes to take
  • lead responsibility for the action proposed
  • the support the school will access to address the area for improvement
  • the timescale for the work to be completed with key milestones
  • resources to be applied to the work
  • success criteria (including quantitative targets for improvements in learner outcomes), against which progress will be judged
  • how progress will be monitored e.g. who, when and how
  • how it will inform parents about the actions planned for the school, ascertain parents’ views on these actions and how it will take those views into account

The local authority statement of action must also address all the recommendations in the inspection report, including the criteria specified above. In addition, the local authority statement should identify whether the authority intends to use its powers of intervention to require the governing body to secure advice or collaborate, give directions to the governing body or headteacher and take any other steps, appoint additional governors, withdraw the school’s delegated budget, or replace the governing body with an interim executive board (IEB).

It should be clear that the local authority and school/PRU have worked together to create their plans.

Reflective questions

These questions are designed to help providers and local authorities consider their post inspection action plans and how they bring about sustained improvements:

  • Overall, does the action plan address the key issues requiring improvement?
  • Is the timeframe for the planned improvement activity realistic and measured? For example, are the milestones coherent and suitably paced? Are the priorities spaced appropriately over the proposed timeframe?
  • Are the aims identified in the plans suitably aspirational, given the current position? Are they likely to lead to the improvements proposed by the success criteria?
  • Is there a clear read across and cohesion between the school’s/PRU’s plan and the local authority’s planned actions?
  • Are the roles and responsibilities of staff and governors suitably clear? For example, who is monitoring what, when, how, and what form should their report or feedback take?
  • Does the planned professional learning match tightly with the planned improvements? How will leaders evaluate the effectiveness of professional learning?
  • Does the plan clearly identify sources of funding, support, time and the other resources required for the plan to be realised successfully? Are planned developments, for example staffing changes or professional learning opportunities, cost effective?
  • How manageable and realistic is the governing body’s proposed involvement in the improvement process? Do members of the governing body have the skills they need, for example to monitor and evaluate the plan’s success?
  • How do the school and local authority intend to involve parents in contributing their views? Are there appropriate and meaningful opportunities for pupils to contribute their ideas and opinions?

Local government education services

At the start of the academic year, three local authorities were in a follow-up category. Two were judged to have made sufficient progress during monitoring visits and removed from any further follow-up activity. Both local authorities improved their leadership capacity and their approaches to evaluation and planning for improvement, which were important aspects to enable leaders to secure improvement across the recommendations from their inspections. Questions to help local government education services reflect on self-evaluation and planning for improvement are included within our sector summary. They can be found here.

We continued to work with one local authority to monitor and support its improvement process. We piloted a new approach to supporting and monitoring progress through more regular visits and engagement. The aim of this approach is to provide the local authority with more direct and timely feedback on its progress.

Independent schools

One of the three independent schools inspected, and six of the 25 schools visited as part of monitoring visits in 2022-2023, failed to meet one or more of the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003. This represents a greater proportion of schools being compliant with the regulations compared to the previous academic year. During 2022-2023, inspectors visited two out of five schools who did not meet the standards for registration during the previous academic year. Inspectors evaluated the schools’ compliance with the standards following a series of supportive follow-up visits. Both schools were found to have met the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003. They were therefore removed from follow-up.

Overview of providers requiring follow-up

Over the course of the year, the proportion of providers overall requiring follow-up was similar to pre-pandemic levels, at around 23%. The tables below include information on the numbers of providers who went into some form of follow-up.

Maintained schools and PRU sectors Total number of providers inspected 2022-2023 Special measures Significant improvement Estyn review
Primary 219 12 5 29
Secondary 28 1 4 6
All-age 6 1
PRU 4 1 1 1
Special 7 1
Proportion of providers needing follow-up 5.3% 3.8% 14.4%
Sector Follow-up Follow-up Number inspected Number placed in follow-up 2022-2023
Non-maintained settings Joint focused improvement or Estyn review 92 2 (Joint focused improvement)
Adult learning in the community Follow-up 3 1
Independent special schools Does not meet Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003 ISS 28 (3 inspections, 25 visits) 7
Initial Teacher Education Causing significant concern and in need of re-inspection or Enhanced Estyn Engagement 2 2 (1 causing significant concern and one in need of enhanced engagement)

Providers that made enough progress to be removed from statutory follow-up (schools, pupils referral units and local authorities), joint focused improvement (non-maintained settings) and follow-up (adult learning in the community and independent schools) during the academic year 2022-2023.

It is difficult to identify trends in the numbers of providers being removed from follow-up over recent time. This is due to the individual circumstances of providers requiring follow-up activity, alongside the impact of the pandemic on inspection activity. Typically, providers placed in special measures require the longest time to make the required improvements. There is no evidence to suggest that, over time, providers in follow-up are making progress at a faster or slower rate than those in follow-up before the pandemic.

Provider Sector Local authority Level of follow-up Date removed from follow-up Core inspection start date
Sŵn y Don Playgroup Non-maintained Conwy FI-J 17/11/2022 24/05/2022
Greenfield Playgroup Non-maintained Flintshire FI-J 11/10/2022 29/03/2022
Presteigne Little People Non-maintained Powys FI-J 01/03/2023 14/06/2022
Pips Bach - Cefnllys Non-maintained Powys FI-J 18/04/2023 11/10/2022
Cylch Meithrin Llangadog Non-maintained Carmarthenshire FI-J 11/07/2023 25/01/2022
Malpas Church in Wales Primary School Primary Newport SM 15/11/2022 04/11/2019
Denbigh High School Secondary Denbighshire SM 20/06/2023 15/11/2016
Ysgol Rhosnesni Secondary Wrexham SM 27/03/2023 26/11/2018
The Greenhill School Secondary Pembrokeshire SM 12/12/2022 13/05/2014
Newport High School Secondary Newport SM 27/03/2023 20/11/2017
Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw Secondary Torfaen SM 01/02/2023 08/04/2019
Pembrokeshire County Council LGES Pembrokeshire ACSC 04/11/2022 02/12/2019
Wrexham County Borough Council LGES Wrexham ACSC 28/07/2023 14/10/2019
Pembrokeshire adult learning in the community Adult learning in the community Pembrokeshire FU 14/03/2022 01/08/2023
Mynydd Haf Independent N/A FU 23/05/2022 21/07/2023
Summergil House Independent N/A FU 14/03/2022 21/07/2023

SM – Special measures
SI – Significant improvement
FI-J – Joint focused improvement
ACSC – Authority causing significant concern
FU – Follow-up

We also removed seven schools from Estyn review during 2022-2023.