Number of providers 2023
Number of providers Welsh-medium 2023
Number of providers with sixth form
No. of all pupils
No. of pupils 2021-22
No. of pupils 2020-21
No. of pupils of secondary age (compulsory education)
No. of pupils in sixth forms
Percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 eligible for free school meals
Percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 with English as 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: 28
Engagement visits: 5
No. of case studies: 11
No. in follow-up September 2022
No. removed 2022-2023
No. went into follow-up 2022-2023
Total in follow-up in August 2023
During 2022-2023, leaders and staff in secondary schools continued to respond well to the ongoing challenges facing schools and pupils. They prioritised high levels of care, support and guidance and focused on improving rates of attendance. Despite this renewed focus in many schools, rates of attendance across the sector had not returned to pre-pandemic levels (Welsh Government, 2023). The majority of schools had developed a suitable and well-understood vision for Curriculum for Wales. However, schools’ preparedness to roll out their Curriculum was too variable. Where the introduction of the new curriculum was less successful, it was often because development had not been supported well enough by a strong enough focus on securing effective teaching. There were clear strengths in leadership across the sector but self-evaluation and planning for improvement continued to be a perennial weakness. In the majority of cases, leaders did not focus sufficiently closely on the effect of provision on pupil outcomes. In particular, when evaluating teaching they did not consider carefully enough its impact on pupil progress. This often gave them an overgenerous view of their school’s effectiveness and hampered their ability to plan for specific improvements.
Teaching and learning
Following the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions, schools worked hard to ensure that the routines of school life were re-established so that pupils could engage with their learning and develop their knowledge, understanding and skills. This helped the majority of pupils make sound progress in their lessons and over time. However, a minority did not consistently make as much progress as they could. This was partly due to the ongoing long-term effects of the pandemic, but often was also a result of shortcomings in teaching and low expectations.
A majority of pupils with ALN made sound progress against their individual targets. Many schools started to develop a range of suitable strategies to support the achievement of pupils from low-income households. However, in general, this group of pupils were disproportionately affected by the disruption caused by the pandemic, and the gap between their level of progress and that of their peers remained a concern.
Where pupils made at least satisfactory progress, it is generally because teachers had appropriately high expectations. These teachers thoughtfully planned sequences of activities that built well on each other and challenged pupils to develop their understanding at an appropriate pace. They monitored pupils’ progress closely and provided them with helpful feedback to ensure that any misconceptions were addressed swiftly. In a minority of instances, teachers planned for what they wanted pupils to do rather than what they wanted them to learn. This often resulted in pupils carrying out undemanding tasks that did not help them to progress. In these lessons, teachers did not develop pupils’ resilience and independence well enough, and they were too accepting of pupils’ lack of engagement.
In many lessons, pupils listened carefully to their teachers and peers and participated successfully in discussion activities. Many schools helpfully placed a particular emphasis on developing pupils’ oracy skills, as this was an aspect that was particularly impacted by the loss of face-to-face learning during periods of lockdown. However, a minority of pupils still lacked confidence in expressing themselves, providing brief underdeveloped responses to questions. This was especially notable in schools where teachers did not use a variety of questioning techniques consistently well enough.
Many pupils demonstrated sound basic reading skills, and a few confidently used more advanced techniques such a synthesis. However, in the majority of schools, pupils did not have sufficient meaningful opportunities to develop these skills across the curriculum. The majority of pupils wrote with suitable accuracy and clarity for an appropriate range of purposes and audiences, and a few crafted imaginative, sophisticated pieces of extended writing. In the majority of schools, suitable provision ensured that pupils had helpful opportunities to develop these skills across the curriculum. However, planning for the progressive development of pupils’ literacy skills remained underdeveloped in a minority of schools. Periods of lockdown during the pandemic had a notable impact on the quality of pupils’ handwriting and presentation, and this remained an issue for a minority of pupils.
In most Welsh-medium and bilingual schools, pupils demonstrated a wide vocabulary and could discuss a range of topics with suitable fluency. The majority could produce well-written pieces of work that expressed their ideas clearly. However, a minority of pupils had a limited vocabulary and found it difficult to express themselves clearly in Welsh, using English words or phrases in the middle of sentences. Many of these schools continued to prioritise the use of the Welsh language and promoting Welshness every day. There were valuable opportunities for pupils to develop their Welsh language skills in informal situations through extra-curricular activities.
The majority of pupils exhibited sound basic number skills and used them appropriately across the curriculum to perform a range of calculations. These pupils measured accurately and used their data handling skills suitably, particularly when choosing and drawing appropriate graphs. Around a half of pupils interpreted their graphs suitably and used these to further develop their subject specific knowledge and understanding in relevant subjects across the curriculum. In a minority of schools, pupils developed their numeracy skills well through a beneficial range of challenging, authentic opportunities. However, too often, numeracy-related tasks were not relevant or challenging enough and pupils merely practised what they could already do. This was often because whole-school approaches to developing numeracy skills were not co-ordinated well enough. In a few schools, pupils enjoyed a range of helpful opportunities to improve their digital skills. Read how Blackwood Comprehensive School developed and improved learners’ digital competence skills. However, in the majority of schools, pupils did not develop their digital skills well enough because of a lack of meaningful or suitably challenging opportunities. Too often, pupils did not build on the digital skills that they learned in primary school.
In English-medium schools, a minority of pupils had a suitable grasp of basic Welsh but the majority did not make sufficient progress in developing their skills, particularly their ability to speak in Welsh. This was often because the work they were set was less demanding than what they experienced in Years 5 and 6. In the majority of cases, pupils’ confidence in Welsh was not supported well enough by opportunities to practise using the language outside of Welsh lessons. In a minority of schools, pupils did not have enough opportunities to learn about Welsh culture and heritage.
A majority of schools developed a suitable and well-understood vision for Curriculum for Wales. However, schools’ preparedness to roll out their curriculum was too variable. In the best examples, schools trialled a variety of approaches, followed by some evaluation and refinement. This case study from Lewis Girls’ Comprehensive School gives an example of the curriculum being used to enhance pupils’ learning experiences and broaden their horizons. Ysgol Gyfun Llangefni developed an outdoor curriculum to support the development of pupils’ knowledge, skills and well-being. A minority of secondary schools collaborated purposefully with their local primary schools to develop a common understanding of learning and progression. Generally, this work was in the early stages of development and did not consistently secure improved progress for all pupils. Where the introduction of the new curriculum was less successful, it was often because development had not been supported well enough by a strong enough focus on securing effective teaching. In a few instances, schools’ planning for the curriculum was hampered by misinterpretation of some key principles, for example by attempting to plan for and evaluate the four purposes through individual lessons.
Most schools provided older pupils with a suitable range of general and vocational courses. In a few instances, extending the Key Stage 4 curriculum to three years limited pupils’ opportunities to study some subjects beyond Year 8 and reduced the breadth of the curriculum. Many schools provided suitable alternative provision for pupils at risk of disengagement. For an example, see how Rhyl High School uses individualised and tailored curriculum offers to remove barriers to learning. In general, schools provided Key Stage 3 pupils with an appropriate programme of personal and social education. However, provision for older pupils was much more variable.
Care, support and well-being
Many pupils welcomed the return to normal schooling following the end of lockdown restrictions and settled back into school successfully with the support of their teachers and support staff. Schools continued to have a strong focus on monitoring and supporting pupils’ well-being, particularly that of the most vulnerable. However, a few pupils continued to struggle to re-adjust to school life, and the effects of the pandemic could still be seen on these pupils’ engagement with learning.
Many schools provided strong pastoral support and care and met pupils’ social and emotional needs well. This work was often supported effectively by a range of external partnerships. As a result, many pupils felt safe in school and free from bullying or harassment. They knew who to turn to if they had a problem and felt confident that any issues would be dealt with. In general, pupils developed a suitable awareness of the importance of equality and diversity and felt that they were encouraged to show tolerance and respect to others. However, a few pupils felt that instances of bullying or harassment relating to sexuality, race or gender were not dealt with consistently enough.
Many pupils engaged positively in their learning. They participated willingly in lessons, showed independence and resilience when faced with challenging tasks, and collaborated successfully in group or paired activities. A minority of pupils were sometimes content to remain passive in their lessons, particularly where the teaching lacked challenge. Many schools had appropriate arrangements to monitor and support pupils’ behaviour. Where these approaches were not consistently applied, the behaviour of a few pupils disrupted their learning and that of others.
During the pandemic, schools worked hard to develop their systems for monitoring pupils’ attendance. In general, they continued to develop these approaches, using a range of strategies to promote the importance of good attendance and tackle persistent absenteeism. In a minority of instances, however, these strategies were not strategic or effective enough. Overall, despite the best efforts of many schools, rates of attendance, particularly those of pupils with ALN and those from low-income households, remained a significant concern (Welsh Government, 2023) and had a negative impact on the progress of a minority of pupils.
In many schools, pupils had beneficial opportunities to influence school life and develop their leadership skills, both through the school council and other groups. In a minority of cases, leadership opportunities for pupils were too limited and other pupils were not made sufficiently aware of the work of the school council. As a result, pupils in these schools did not always feel listened to.
In many schools, inspectors found that the support for pupils with additional learning needs provided by the ALN team was a strength. In these instances, ALN staff provided carefully planned support for these pupils through targeted interventions and support in mainstream lessons. However, in a minority of cases, teachers did not use the guidance provided by the ALN team well enough to meet the needs of these pupils. Many schools made good progress as they prepared for the requirements of ALN reform. For example, Ysgol Gyfun Llangefni ensured that ALN was everyone’s responsibility as part of its provision for pupils with ALN. Where schools had a specialist resource base, they were safe and supportive environments that helped pupils to integrate into mainstream provision successfully. Read how Monmouth Comprehensive School has developed an integrated approach to specialist provision.
In nearly all schools, there were suitable arrangements for training related to safeguarding and child protection, and staff understood their role in keeping children safe. Many schools had a strong culture of safeguarding, where staff maintained a consistent focus on keeping pupils happy and safe through all aspects of their work. In a few schools, however, processes for recording safeguarding incidents were not sufficiently robust. In addition, in around one in three core inspections, inspectors noted a health and safety issue that needed to be addressed.
Leading and improving
Many headteachers had a clear vision for their school that was clearly communicated and well understood by staff. In these schools, leadership roles were equitable and clearly defined, and line management arrangements were suitably robust. Where this was not the case, this made it difficult for leaders to discharge their roles effectively or to be held to account fully for securing improvement.
Restrictions during the pandemic meant that, in nearly all schools, self-evaluation activities such as lesson observations were significantly curtailed. Once they were able to resume this aspect of their work, many schools carried out a range of appropriate evaluative activities. In a minority of schools, this first-hand evidence was used suitably to identify areas for improvement. However, in the majority of cases, leaders did not focus sufficiently closely on the effect of provision on pupil outcomes. In particular, when evaluating teaching they did not consider carefully enough its impact on pupil progress. This often gave them an overgenerous view of their school’s effectiveness and hampered their ability to plan for specific improvements. As a result, self-evaluation processes and planning for improvement needed to be strengthened in the majority of schools. In only a few, highly effective schools, leaders consistently synthesised a range of accurate, precise self-evaluation evidence to plan for and secure improvements. Read how Blackwood Comprehensive School has developed an effective culture of self-evaluation and continuous professional learning.
Robust self-evaluation activities and planning for improvement, Coedcae School
Most leaders have a secure understanding of the specific strengths and areas for development in their areas of responsibility, garnered from a range of robust self-evaluation activities that focus sharply on pupil progress and well-being. This helps them to plan for improvement precisely, identify developmental needs in a timely manner and adapt provision accordingly. Leaders at all levels make good use of an extensive variety of data. This helps them to monitor pupil progress closely and put in place many timely and highly beneficial interventions. In addition, the views of pupils and well-established links with parents and the wider community are used well to evaluate and strengthen the school’s work.
In many schools, leaders developed a suitable focus on reducing the effects of poverty on pupil attainment. They used grant funding such as the pupil development grant appropriately to improve the experiences and outcomes of pupils experiencing poverty, for example by providing funding for enrichment activities including trips or music tuition. In a few schools, leaders established a coherent whole-school approach to mitigating the effects of poverty and had a notable impact on the aspirations, engagement and achievement of these pupils.
Leaders in many schools promoted a positive culture of professional learning. See, for example, how Lewis Girls’ Comprehensive School has used professional learning to impact teaching and learning, curriculum development and leadership. They ensured that staff had a range of opportunities to share good practice both within and across departments and, in the best examples, with other schools. In a few cases, strong, carefully planned links between self-evaluation evidence, performance management arrangements and professional learning activities helped schools to secure improvements in the quality of teaching. However, in a minority of schools, leaders did not plan for or evaluate professional learning well enough.
In general, governors were highly committed supporters of their school. They monitored school finances closely and, in many cases, challenged senior leaders appropriately. In a few instances, governors were not provided with sufficient information to be able to challenge school leaders or play a full role in setting the school’s strategic direction.
Welsh Government (2023) Absenteeism from secondary schools: September 2022 to August 2023. Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from: https://www.gov.wales/sites/default/files/pdf-versions/2023/10/4/1697704660/absenteeism-secondary-schools-september-2022-august-2023-revised.pdf [Accessed 13 November 2023]