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All-age schools in Wales

A report on the challenges and successes of establishing all age schools

In January 2022, we published our thematic report on the challenges and successes of establishing all-age schools in Wales. The report draws upon evidence gathered through visits to all the all-age schools that are open in Wales. Local authorities were contacted for their views through a combination of phone calls and visits. Prior to the start of the pandemic in March 2020, during visits to providers, the team interviewed leaders and teachers. They met with governors and carried out learning walks. Pupils’ views were gathered through interviews during these visits.

After activity resumed in April 2021, interviews with staff and pupils were limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, instead, inspectors analysed existing information about all-age schools to establish the context and background. They also considered inspection evidence available.

Our recommendations include:

The Welsh Government should:

  1. Consider introducing national all-age schools guidance to support all-age schools, their leaders, governors and local authorities

Local authorities / regional consortia should:

  1. Ensure that consultation on establishing an all-age school is meaningful, transparent and helpful in engaging the local community to support change to improve the provision for their children
  2. Appoint leaders for new all-age schools early to provide enough planning and preparation time
  3. R4 Provide better focused, sector-specific training and support, for example to improve classroom practice across all phases of the school

Schools should:

  1. Continue to plan and provide a rich curriculum that naturally progresses across the full age range
  2. Collaborate further with other schools to develop all-age school policies and procedures, and share good practice

What did our thematic survey say?

The rationale for establishing an all-age school

Despite support for the establishment of all-age schools, there is no national guidance available for local authorities and school leaders. Therefore, local authorities have their own, diverse plans to suit their unique circumstances. These are nearly always part of that authority’s wider school organisation plans.

Welsh Government guidance is usually separate for primary and secondary schools, which makes it difficult for all-age schools to consider and navigate in order to establish their own position statements. As a result, the all-age schools sector is not currently recognised as a discrete sector well enough.

The national network of all-age schools brings a worthwhile sense of belonging to a newly emerging, separate sector. Due to a lack of national guidance, this group has provided support for each other, brokered grants from external sources and worked to highlight the pitfalls and best practice. Most local authorities anticipate that the benefits of an all-age school will outweigh the disadvantages. Over time, local authorities have learnt from each other’s experiences, as well as making use of the research into successful all-age models.

Setting up all-age schools

Where new all-age schools have been most successful, leaders and the local authority have engaged well with the local community. Leaders have taken time to outline the benefits for pupils and the community, to ease concerns and provide reassurances. Parents, staff and governors have valued being kept informed of the process and procedures.

Local authorities generally have provided appropriate support for governing bodies during the process of establishing an all-age school. In particular, support from human resources and legal departments has ensured that, normally, correct procedures are followed. However, support for headteachers has varied across Wales.

Most schools adopted a leadership structure where leaders have whole school responsibilities that span all phases. In the few instances where this was not established from the beginning, schools have quickly realised its advantage and adapted their leadership responsibilities accordingly.

The impact of an all-age school model

In nearly all all-age schools, a significant proportion of pupils transition from partner primary schools into Year 7. This could be as many as 94% of the cohort down to 20%. On transfer from Year 6 to Year 7, schools report that pupils from within an all-age school settle well in Year 7 and make better progress in their first year than those who transition from separate primary schools.

Pastoral care and support for pupil wellbeing are a strength in most all-age schools, having been a priority since schools opened. This means that provision and interventions in many schools are often seamless and build to bring about improvements to outcomes during the child’s time at the school.

Most teachers work together to plan and implement a curriculum that considers progression across all phases. Most schools have developed their vision for the Curriculum for Wales and began trialling resources and approaches. This includes realising the need for a coherent curriculum that considers progress appropriately.

Professional learning arrangements in all-age schools are particularly useful, including the sharing of good practice in teaching internally or between schools. However, external professional learning is often not specific enough for the all-age sector.

When establishing and developing leadership teams for all-age schools, governors realise that schools require skills from primary and secondary sector backgrounds. Overall, successful all-age leadership teams normally comprise of a mix of leaders with different sector backgrounds.

The quality of self-evaluation and planning for improvement across the sector is variable. However, in the best examples, schools evaluate provision and standards across and between phases.