Number of providers 2023
Number of providers Welsh-medium 2023
No. of all pupils
No. of pupils 2021-22
No. of pupils 2020-21
Percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 eligible for free school meals
Percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 with English as an additional language (A,B,C)
Percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 able to speak Welsh
Percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 with additional learning needs
No. of core inspections: 219
Engagement visits: 4
No. of case studies: 57
No. in follow-up September 2022
No. removed 2022-2023
Downgraded 1 from ER to SM
No. went into follow-up 2022-2023
Total in follow-up in August 2023
During 2022-2023, primary schools continued to place a strong emphasis on supporting the well-being of pupils and their families. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools strengthened their pastoral systems to provide the additional emotional support that many pupils and their families needed. Many schools also refined their approach to monitoring and encouraging attendance. However, despite the best efforts of many schools, rates of attendance remained below pre-pandemic levels (Welsh Government, 2023). The rates of attendance of pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged contexts were a particular concern. A majority of schools started to implement Curriculum for Wales well and most schools planned effectively to develop pupils’ speaking, listening and reading skills. Many leaders knew their schools well and had clear systems and processes in place. However, too many leaders did not prioritise the development of pupils’ and staff members’ Welsh language skills well enough. Progress in the development of pupils’ Welsh language oracy skills in English-medium schools remains a cause for concern and has been further hampered by the impact of the pandemic.
Teaching and learning
Throughout the year, schools considered how best to implement the requirements of Curriculum for Wales. However, as with the previous year, the quality and impact of this work remained variable with a majority of schools making good progress. Staff in these schools often benefited from collaboration between teachers within their own setting as well as with other schools. They focused on the trial, review and refine processes and ensured that they looked closely at how they delivered the curriculum, not just what the curriculum contained. They also began to think about what progression through the curriculum should look like for the pupils in their school and how pupils could apply the skills they developed in areas across the curriculum. Often, this entailed developing overarching themes that allowed pupils to make links to their own life experiences. A few schools made greater progress. Often these had been on their journey to reform for some time, were beginning to embed their approach and, in a few cases, implement a third or fourth version of their curriculum. Often this included involving pupils in curriculum design in a meaningful way and ensuring that parents had opportunities to contribute to and understand the purpose of the changes. Read how Pendoylan C.I.W. Primary School in the Vale of Glamorgan has developed a bespoke and collaborative curriculum journey in response to Curriculum for Wales.
For a minority of schools, progress in implementing Curriculum for Wales was still at an early stage. These schools had often only recently engaged with curriculum reform and did not have a secure enough understanding of the principles that underpin the Curriculum for Wales framework. Many of these schools adapted planning to focus on what pupils learn rather than how they learn. As a result, they often lacked rigour in important aspects such as cross-curricular skills and their understanding of assessment and progression was limited.
In the best cases, where schools gave serious consideration to how teaching needed to change to align with Curriculum for Wales, teachers maintained a clear focus on the impact that any changes would have on the quality of learning experiences for pupils and the progress they would make. Leaders provided them with the opportunity to experiment and trial new approaches. In these schools, teachers engaged purposefully with research information, worked with colleagues in their own school and others. In addition, this ensured that they adapted any new ideas and methodologies to suit the needs and context of the pupils and staff in their school. They were also willing to abandon or modify their approach based on sound evidence about what worked and what did not.
In most schools, leaders and teachers recognised the benefits of important changes to pedagogy, such as ensuring that pupils take increasing responsibility for their own learning, and that they should deliver teaching and learning across all Areas of Learning and Experience. However, where changes to teaching were less effective, teachers planned activities to nurture pupils’ independent learning skills that did not challenge them sufficiently and did not help them to progress with their learning. Often, these activities involved pupils choosing which tasks to engage with, but at a level that was below their capabilities, and which did not challenge them to apply their learning at a suitable level and make progress.
In general, many pupils, including those with additional learning needs (ALN), made good progress with the development of their skills, knowledge and understanding during lessons and activities and over time. Pupils’ oracy skills were increasingly strong in many schools. This was often a reflection of changes in pedagogy that provided more time for pupils to collaborate and discuss. Teachers included planned opportunities for pupils to practise their oracy skills to compensate for the negative impact of the pandemic. Many primary schools identified evidence-based strategies to improve pupils’ reading skills. In the most successful cases, these approaches were applied consistently and were supported by effective professional learning for staff. The thematic report on developing pupils’ English reading skills from 10-14 years of age in English medium and bilingual schools includes cameos and case studies of effective practice. As a result, by the time they had reached Year 6, many pupils read with appropriate fluency and a majority summarised and evaluated suitably challenging texts. In many schools, pupils had a good understanding of the features of different types of writing, but similarly to last year, in too many schools, pupils did not write at length frequently enough and made basic errors in grammar and punctuation that were not addressed well enough through teacher feedback. Read how Cwmbach Community Primary School near Aberdare used a whole-school approach to developing pupils as effective writers to improve pupils’ writing skills.
Progress in the development of pupils’ Welsh language oracy skills in English-medium schools remained a concern and this had been further hampered by the impact of the pandemic. There has been little sign of improvement in this area over the last 10 years. Indeed, in her annual report for 2012-2013 the then Chief Inspector, Ann Keane, reported that:
“Inspectors make recommendations to develop pupils’ Welsh second language skills in over a quarter of English-medium schools. Pupils’ progress in learning Welsh decreases as they get older, so that, although a majority of pupils make good progress in Welsh language development in the Foundation Phase, their progress slows down in subsequent key stages.”
This has been a consistent theme over recent years and the findings of inspectors in 2022-2023 are very similar with just under one third (30%) of English-medium primary schools receiving a recommendation to improve pupils’ Welsh language skills. Nearly one in five Welsh-medium primary schools (18%) had a similar recommendation. Too often, pupils did not build their skills as they moved through the school. Older year groups continued to use basic phrases that had not developed significantly from those they learnt at a young age. Often this was linked to a lack of enthusiasm for the language and the poor skills of staff in the school. However, in a few schools where progress was more solid, leaders had successfully ensured that the Welsh language was well integrated into all aspects of school life, that it featured in a variety of curriculum areas, and that staff had the skills, confidence and enthusiasm to teach and promote the language. Our thematic report on Support for Welsh in Initial Teacher Education contains resources to help schools consider their provision.
In most schools, pupils acquired sound skills and knowledge in mathematics. They developed a good understanding of number and a range of techniques to complete calculations. In the best cases, pupils at all ages chose from a range of methods to solve mathematical problems, selecting the one that was most appropriate to the context and explaining their approach.
Pupils’ ability to apply their numeracy and literacy skills in other areas of learning across the curriculum was variable. Too often, teachers planned independent activities for pupils that did not challenge them sufficiently and did not help them to progress with their learning. As a result, particularly with numeracy, pupils did not apply their skills in work across the curriculum at a high enough level or in sufficiently authentic contexts. In contrast, many pupils continued to make good progress in their ability to apply their digital skills in a variety of areas of learning. Often, teachers found innovative ways to use information and communication technology (ICT) to support pupils’ learning and make learning experiences engaging and fun. In particular, the use of media to support pupils’ literacy skills was a developing strength.
Care, support and well-being
Pupils’ sense of well-being, their attitudes to their learning and the quality of the care, support and guidance that schools provided continued to be a strength in primary schools. In most cases, pupils enjoyed school, were enthusiastic about their learning and behaved well. In working towards implementing Curriculum for Wales, many schools considered ways to improve pupils’ skills as learners, for example their ability to collaborate, solve problems and lead their own learning. However, as noted above, planned independent activities were too often of poor quality. As a result, just under one third (29%) of the schools inspected received a recommendation related to improving pupils’ ability to work and think independently.
Many schools provided increasingly meaningful opportunities for pupils to contribute to the life and work of the school through pupil voice groups. Inspectors have seen the variety and focus of these groups expand considerably in recent years to cover many areas beyond the work of the traditional school council. Examples include work to support pupils’ understanding of diversity and equality, work to improve pupils’ knowledge of their rights as a child, and work in collaboration with leaders to support low-income families. In the best cases, leaders involved pupils purposefully in evaluating the quality of teaching and learning and used their feedback meaningfully to consider the quality of their provision and to make improvements.
As they moved beyond the disruption caused by the pandemic, schools continued to place a strong emphasis on supporting the well-being of pupils and their families. Many put in place additional measures to address anxiety and ensure that pupils had ways to share any concerns or worries. For instance, in some schools they ensured that specific adults were available at allocated times and locations to talk to pupils who were unhappy or feeling anxious. Many schools reported more pupils struggling to regulate their emotions and having to put provision in place to support them, such as dedicated calm areas within classes where pupils could engage in ‘time out’ until they were ready to return to their learning.
Most schools approached ALN reform with positivity and made good progress towards implementing the requirements of the ALN act. In general, additional learning needs co-ordinators ALNCos) demonstrated effective leadership in ensuring that systems and processes were updated to meet the requirements of the act, for example by ensuring that targeted pupils have useful one-page profiles that outline their interests and how they like to be supported. They liaised well with other leaders and external agencies to ensure that staff received the professional learning they needed to support pupils with additional needs.
As a result of the pandemic, many schools reviewed and refined their approach to monitoring and encouraging attendance. However, despite the best efforts of many schools, rates of attendance remained below pre-pandemic levels and the attendance of pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged contexts was a particular concern (Welsh Government, 2023).
Most schools provided good opportunities for pupils to develop their understanding of their identity, heritage and culture as part of their local community and Wales. In the best cases, they established links with local community groups and made regular local visits to make pupils’ learning more authentic, for instance by working with a local coffee shop on designing branding and exploring issues around sustainability. However, schools did not always provide pupils with sufficient opportunities to learn about the diverse nature of their communities, Wales and the wider world. Jubilee Park Primary School in Newport developed an effective whole school approach to tackling racism, which considers equality, diversity and cynefin.
Leading and improving
In many schools, leadership was strong. Leaders worked with governors to establish clear systems and processes where all members of staff were sure about their roles and responsibilities. Leaders modelled strong professional values, including the ability to reflect honestly on their own performance and that of the school and this encouraged an ethos of self-reflection amongst staff. They placed a substantial emphasis on supporting the well-being of staff. In a few schools this support was formalised through specific measures to support staff well-being, such as access to counselling services. This often resulted in staff having high levels of confidence in leaders and sharing their vision for improvement.
In the few schools where leadership was strongest, leaders had a clear vision for their school based closely on its context and the needs of its pupils and families. Because they were clear about what was best for their school, they made careful choices about the policies and procedures that they adopted, recognising that effective practice in another school may not be the best approach for their own. Conversely, in the few schools where leadership was weak, this was often because of a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities, too much focus on management issues rather than the long-term strategic development of the school, and poor relationships between leaders and staff.
Leaders that successfully introduced measures to tackle the impact of poverty on attainment had a clear strategic vision that encompassed this as a key feature. They used their knowledge of their community well to target grant funding effectively, for example by employing a family engagement officer to support and liaise with targeted families. In many schools, leaders carefully considered the cost of the school day and the effect this could have on families. They mitigated any impact through such measures as ensuring that educational visits were affordable for all and reducing the cost of school uniform by removing the requirement for pupils to wear clothes with a school logo. Llwydcoed Primary near Aberdare adopted a valuable ‘cost of the school day’ approach working with the whole-school community to identify and reduce the financial barriers faced by pupils from low-income households.
Professional learning in effective schools was targeted well to support the school’s improvement objectives with a clear focus on their impact on outcomes for pupils. Many schools co-operated well with other schools in their local cluster and further afield to share effective practice in teaching and learning and address the requirements of curriculum and ALN reform. In a minority of schools, leaders did not ensure that professional learning to develop the Welsh language skills of staff resulted in a positive impact on the standards and progress of pupils.
In many cases, particularly where they had made good progress in implementing Curriculum for Wales, schools strengthened their relationships with parents and the wider community. In a majority of schools, parents felt that the school communicated with them clearly. Where this was not the case, it was often the result of the school using too many methods of communication and parents being unclear about which one they should be accessing.
Most schools began to return to a full timetable of monitoring, evaluation and review as they emerged from the pandemic. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions and challenges during the preceding years, a few schools managed to continue with many aspects of self-evaluation and quickly returned to their normal routines in the 2022-2023 academic year. However, overall, self-evaluation and improvement processes in over one third of schools (43%) required improvement. Often this was because they lacked rigour, did not focus sufficiently on outcomes for pupils and did not identify key areas for improvement in the quality of teaching, particularly in the classes of the youngest pupils.
In many cases, following the pandemic, governors had not returned to their usual routines of gathering first-hand evidence of the quality of the work of the school. This hindered their ability to challenge and support the school as they relied too heavily on the information provided to them by senior leaders and didn’t have sufficient first-hand information to ask challenging questions of leaders.
Welsh Government (2023) Attendance of pupils in maintained schools: 5 September 2022 to 24 July 2023. Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from: https://www.gov.wales/attendance-pupils-maintained-schools-5-september-2022-24-july-2023 [Accessed 13 November 2023]