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School pupils at work

Sector report: Independent mainstream 2021-2022


No. of schools January 2022


Including 10 boarding schools


No. of schools January 2021

Independent School Standards

In independent schools, we inspect the extent to which the school complies with the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003.

All schools inspected in 2021-2022 met these Standards.

This year, the Welsh Government formally requested us to undertake one announced focused inspection under section 160 of the Education Act 2002 (Great Britain, 2002). The inspection had a particular focus on standard 3 of the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003, which relates to the welfare, health and safety of pupils (National Assembly for Wales, 2003). At the time of the focused inspection, the school did not meet the regulatory requirements for this standard fully. We will continue to engage with this school and monitor whether they make the required improvements to maintain registration.

In addition we carried out three improvement conferences with a school that failed the regulatory requirements for standard 3 in the previous academic year. This school now meets all the regulatory requirements and is removed from follow-up.

Core inspections

This year, we inspected four independent mainstream schools.

Three schools are all-age schools and one is a primary school.

In addition, two of the schools are boarding schools.

Independent school visits

In addition to our core inspections and focused inspections, we also carry out a range of other work with independent schools:

  • One response to an action plan where a school does not meet the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003
  • Three initial registration visits, to register a new independent school
  • Three follow-up to registration visits, to ensure that a newly opened independent school continues to comply with the independent school standards
  • Visits to six independent schools as part of our thematic report on peer-on-peer sexual harassment
  • Seven material change visits, to provide the Welsh Government with advice regarding a change in circumstances of an independent school


In the schools inspected this year, a swift response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic ensured that standards remained high and pupils continued to make strong progress.

Across the schools inspected, pupils had well-developed communication skills. Nearly all pupils were articulate, and confident speaking to visitors. They were at ease discussing their work and when responding to questions. However, a few pupils did not always listen well enough when others were speaking.

In nearly all the schools inspected, most pupils displayed strong reading skills alongside a love of books and literature. A few pupils were exceptionally competent readers and could read and comprehend a wide range of texts. These reading skills enabled pupils to successfully access written material across the curriculum.

The standard of writing of most pupils was strong across all schools. Pupils developed the appropriate skills to write for different audiences and purposes. A very few pupils made repeated basic errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Most pupils developed extremely strong mathematical skills and, when given the opportunity, successfully applied their numerical skills in a different context. A very few older pupils presented as highly capable mathematicians, who applied their mathematical skills accurately and securely across the curriculum.

The digital skills of nearly all pupils developed well due to the effective online provision made by schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included a strong focus on using digital technology to communicate effectively, to complete their work and for research.

Well-being and attitudes to learning

In all schools inspected, pupil and staff well-being remained a strong focus. Pupils demonstrated pride in their school and had a strong sense of belonging, which contributed effectively to their well-being.

Nearly all pupils enjoyed constructive and trusting working relationships with their teachers. Pupils were confident to speak to staff and knew that any concerns would be dealt with swiftly. Nearly all pupils worked diligently in class and enjoyed their lessons. They co-operated with each other maturely in pairs and small groups. Most showed respect for the contribution of others and offered support to their peers. They were enthusiastic learners, keen to participate and answer teachers’ questions. However, in a very few cases during class discussions, pupils did not always wait for their turn to contribute or give others sufficient time to share their ideas.

Teaching and learning experiences

In all the schools inspected, the curriculum was broad and balanced and met the requirements of the Independent School Standards (Wales) 2003. In addition, particularly at Key Stage 4, the all-age schools frequently provided a highly bespoke curriculum well suited to the interests and talents of the pupils. The extensive cocurricular opportunities that independent schools offer had been curtailed due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, three-quarters of schools swiftly reintroduced educational visits and planned trips further afield. These experiences strongly supported pupils’ well-being.

However, in half of the schools inspected, one of their recommendations related to the provision for personal and social education. In these cases the delivery of this important area of the curriculum was unco-ordinated or the practice did not match the policy. Pupils were missing out on important aspects of this subject. This was also the case in schools we visited as part of the work for our ‘We don’t tell our teachers’ report on peer-on-peer sexual harassment. In these schools, there was often not enough curriculum time for personal and social education for older pupils and pupils did not have enough opportunities to talk openly about their experiences of peer-on-peer sexual harassment.

Across the schools, nearly all staff had positive and supportive working relationships with pupils and knew them extremely well. Teachers had high expectations of themselves and of their pupils.

Where teaching was most successful, activities were often open ended and adapted effectively to offer pupils an appropriate level of challenge. In these cases, teachers provided pupils with high-quality feedback, which clearly identified areas in which their work could be improved.

Where teaching was less successful, teachers planned activities that were too narrowly focused or too heavily teacherled for pupils to be able to direct their own learning and therefore benefit from opportunities to develop wider skills and independence. Also in these cases, pupils were not provided with the opportunity, or expected to respond to, helpful feedback about their work.

Care, support and guidance

Leaders and staff placed a high priority on the well-being of all pupils.

Where appropriate, schools liaised constructively with external agencies, for example to provide specialist support for pupils’ mental health. In addition, one school in particular made highly effective use of the local and wider community to support pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

In nearly all schools inspected, the additional learning needs co-ordinator (ALNCo) ensured that pupils with additional learning needs (ALN) received the support that they needed to succeed with their learning. In one school this was a particular strength.

All schools inspected had an appropriate culture of safeguarding and there was a strong culture in half of schools inspected. All staff understood their role in ensuring that pupils were safe and well cared for. However, in the other schools, staff were not always clear about who they should report to if they had concerns relating to senior members of staff or record checking was not always robust. Where inspectors identified these issues, they were subsequently addressed with the schools. This reflects the findings of our thematic report on peer-on-peer sexual harassment where in nearly all schools visited staff know what to do if they have a concern about a pupil. However, in many schools, teachers and, to lesser degree, senior leaders and support staff are not fully aware of the prevalence of peer-on peer harassment as pupils do not systematically report their concerns to school staff.


In the schools inspected, leaders had high ambitions for their pupils and high expectations of their staff. The headteacher was supported well by their senior team and, together, they set a clear, shared vision and ethos that everyone subscribed to. Most leaders monitored the school’s work closely and had an accurate understanding of the strengths and shortcomings across the school. Where leaders’ monitoring identified shortcomings in practice, these were addressed promptly, for example through mentoring and coaching support.

Where there were shortcomings in leadership, improvement planning processes did not always focus well enough on pupils’ progress, the standards they achieved and the quality of teaching. As a result, the school’s arrangements to evaluate progress towards making improvements in these important areas were not effective enough.

In threequarters of the schools inspected, professional development opportunities, whether through sharing good practice or attending external courses, remained strong. However, in a quarter of schools only a minority of staff had engaged in the opportunities for professional learning.

In half of the schools inspected, the role of the governing body was underdeveloped, particularly their role as critical friend.

This resource provides self-reflection prompts to support strengthening leadership in independent schools.