Sector report: Secondary 2021-2022
No. of schools 2022
No. of schools 2021: 182
No. of schools 2022: 182
The number of secondary schools has reduced over recent years, largely due to the increase in the number of all age schools.
No. of pupils in compulsory education
No. of pupils in sixth forms
Percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals
Percentage of pupils with English as an additional language (A-C)
Percentage of pupils able to speak Welsh
Percentage of pupils with additional learning needs
No. in follow-up September 2021SM12SI9ER8
No. removed 2021-22:SM5SI5ER7
One downgraded from SI to SM
No. went into follow-up 2021-2022:SM0SI1ER2
Total in follow-up August 2022:SM8SI3ER3
- No. of inspections: 11
- No. not in follow-up: 8
- Welsh-medium: 3
- Bilingual: 1
- English-medium: 7
- Faith: 2
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, core inspections only took place between the end of February and the end of May 2022
- No. of case studies 10
Schools with case studies:
Whitmore High School
Cathays High School
Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Myrddin
- No. of visits: 39
- Welsh-medium: 0
- Bilingual: 5
- English-medium: 34
- Faith: 4
Since their return to the classroom, most pupils responded well to taking part in activities previously unavailable to them because of COVID-19 restrictions. These included working in pairs, whole class ‘live’ discussions, team sports and practical activities such as science experiments, cooking and using musical instruments. A majority of pupils made steady progress in their subject knowledge and understanding, and skills. A minority found returning to the classroom challenging and did not make enough progress.
In general, pupils in the sixth form did not experience as much loss in their learning as younger pupils as they were more likely to engage with the remote learning activities given to them. Many demonstrated a deep awareness of subject concepts and were articulate pupils who are able to express themselves with sophistication. In many cases, pupils with additional learning needs made good progress against their targets as a result of well-considered and co-ordinated provision.
During periods of lockdown, most pupils did not learn as well as they would have, had they been in school. Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds made substantially less progress than other pupils. This finding is consistent with research in England that found that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds experienced greater learning losses than more affluent peers as a result of the pandemic.
Due to the pandemic, Year 7 pupils came into secondary education with a significantly reduced transition experience. As a result of substantial efforts from school staff in reorganising these experiences online, many pupils adapted well and continued to make suitable progress in their skills. In a minority of cases, curricular transition had not ensured that pupils built on the skills developed in Key Stage 2 well enough. As a result, pupils repeated work they did in their primary schools. This was especially the case in Welsh in English-medium schools and ICT.
Pupils in Year 11, and those in the sixth-form, experienced significant uncertainty in preparing for their examinations. In many cases, useful support from teachers meant that these pupils developed their ability to prepare for and sit examinations suitably. In some schools, pupils in these year groups completed tests very frequently, which caused anxiety and did not always lead to progress in subject knowledge or skills.
During periods of lockdown where pupils learnt remotely, they did not get enough opportunities to develop their oracy skills. Since their return to classroom learning, a majority enjoyed the opportunities to engage in whole class or group discussions. During these discussions, a majority of pupils made suitable progress and a few developed their ability to express themselves eloquently. In a minority of cases, pupils did not make enough progress in their ability to communicate through speaking and listening. These pupils had lost motivation and confidence when responding to teachers’ questions or engaging in discussions with others. The need to wear face masks contributed to this decline as they muffle sound and make facial expressions difficult to read. This made developing communication skills in Welsh or modern foreign languages particularly difficult. A minority of schools planned carefully to develop pupils’ speaking skills.
A majority of pupils maintained, although did not develop, their reading skills suitably during lockdown periods. However, in a minority of cases, pupils’ ability to read aloud was underdeveloped. In these cases, pupils read with poor fluency, hesitating when encountering unfamiliar words. They tended to read without expression. In general, pupils did not read aloud frequently enough across the curriculum and did not receive sufficient support to develop this skill. In the majority of schools, pupils developed their reading skills well. Most pupils skimmed and scanned texts to gain relevant information well. Many were able to make basic inferences from texts. A majority of pupils were able to read for meaning appropriately and use information to make suitable predictions or inferences. A minority of pupils did not develop these reading skills well enough.
Many pupils improved their keyboard skills during periods of lockdown. However, these periods had a notably detrimental impact on pupils’ handwriting and their ability to present coherent pieces of written work. In a majority of schools, pupils wrote at length in a reasonable range of subjects. However, too frequently, pupils completed undemanding writing tasks such as copying or gap-filling. A majority of pupils wrote with suitable accuracy. They spelt most commonly used words correctly and applied grammatical rules appropriately. However, a minority of pupils made too many basic spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.
In a majority of schools, pupils developed their numeracy skills across the curriculum appropriately. Most were able to make basic measurements competently and a majority were able to convert between different units. However, as a result of lockdowns, opportunities to make more sophisticated measurements such as in science experiments had been limited. A majority of pupils understood how to present data in graphical form well. As they progressed through the school, they developed the ability to select the appropriate type of chart or graph to present their data. By the end of Key Stage 4, a majority were able to construct and plot scatter graphs suitably. However, in a minority of cases, pupils did not interpret these graphs. Most pupils developed their sense of proportion well and could estimate quantities appropriately. In general, they could apply formulae suitably and a majority developed the ability to manipulate these as they progressed through Key Stage 4. Too frequently, pupils did not consider the reasoning behind the methods they used to solve mathematical problems, mainly as they did not get the opportunities to do so.
During periods of lockdown, it was very difficult for pupils to make enough progress in subjects that need ‘hands-on’ learning such as music, design and technology, sports, art and the practical aspects of science. Many pupils did not engage in enough physical activity during periods of lockdown. As a result of careful planning in many schools, pupils reacquainted themselves with these aspects of their learning and made steady gains in these subject-specific skills. When given the opportunity, most pupils showed strong creative skills. During the summer term, a minority of schools returned to the pre-pandemic range of extra-curricular activities.
The pandemic had a detrimental impact on pupils’ Welsh language skills in English-medium, bilingual and Welsh schools. In a majority of Welsh-medium and bilingual schools, pupils maintained their command of the language suitably. This was as a result of a great deal of hard work and careful planning from staff during the pandemic. Most pupils had a wide vocabulary and could discuss a range of topics with suitable fluency. Many could produce well-written pieces of work that express their ideas clearly. However, in nearly all of these schools, pupils’ inclination to use the language with their peers declined notably during periods of lockdown. A majority of these schools made rebuilding pupils’ ability to speak Welsh a priority. This was beginning to have a positive impact. However, in a minority of schools, this was not the case and some pupils were reluctant to use the language in all circumstances, including with their teachers.
In a few cases in English-medium schools, pupils made very good progress in their ability to communicate in Welsh. In these lessons, pupils engaged enthusiastically with the learning tasks they were given and developed their ability to speak, understand and read Welsh well. In too many cases, pupils made only modest progress and continued to make very basic errors in pronunciation and sentence structure. They did not use their Welsh frequently enough apart from in their Welsh lessons and generally lacked the confidence to speak Welsh. In nearly all cases, pupils who received their education in Welsh in primary school but then attended an English-medium school did not make enough progress in the language.
Well-being and attitudes to learning
During periods of lockdown, many pupils faced periods of loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Some pupils remained resilient and used the opportunities offered to them by schools to learn online or through the packs of work given to them. However, the lack of structure normally provided by the need to regularly attend school resulted in disrupted sleep patterns, difficulties conforming with routines and poor behaviour for certain pupils. A majority of pupils did not participate well enough with the learning opportunities offered to them during these times. Research by the School Health Research Network found evidence of decline in the mental health and well-being of pupils in schools in Wales between 2019 and 2021, based on survey questions designed to measure mental well-being, depressive symptoms, and loneliness. King’s College London found that the mental health of certain groups of young people was affected more than others, particularly those with special educational needs, and girls.
Many pupils relished the opportunities offered to them as a result of returning to ‘normal’ schooling and settled back into school routines well. A few remained extremely anxious about the return to school or had got into the habit of not attending. Overall, attendance was still well below where it was before the pandemic. Absence rates for pupils eligible for free school meals increased substantially, which caused particular concern because the pre-pandemic absence rates of this group of pupils were already high. More detailed findings regarding the impact of the pandemic on attendance rates in Wales can be found in this paper by the former HMCI, Meilyr Rowlands.
Research from the Education Policy Institute shows a clear link between regular attendance and progress. They found that secondary aged pupils with a low level of absence experienced a learning loss of around a month in reading by the end of the autumn term. This compares to around 2.7 and 5.1 months for pupils with a medium and high level of absence respectively. This supports their theory that the more time pupils spent in schools when schools re-opened for all pupils, the smaller the degree of learning loss. Pupils in year groups where they normally have external examinations experienced significant uncertainty about how they would be assessed. This led to increased levels of anxiety for many of these pupils.
In a few schools, behaviour was exemplary, and pupils consistently showed high levels of care and respect to one another. However, a minority of pupils found returning to the classroom challenging and found it difficult to regulate their behaviour. In the majority of schools, incidences of low level disruption were higher than before the pandemic.
Most pupils said that they had not experienced bullying personally. However, a very few pupils reported that they were being bullied. In many cases, pupils reported that staff dealt well with any cases of bullying, although in a few cases this problem was not dealt with satisfactorily. Despite the best efforts of many staff, there were instances of bullying or harassment as a result of pupils’ sexuality, race or gender in all schools. A degree of sexual harassment is experienced by some pupils in all schools. A majority felt that staff deal appropriately with this issue, but others felt that staff turn a blind eye to it and do not address this matter well enough.
Many pupils enjoyed their lessons and showed positive attitudes to their learning. These pupils demonstrated resilience and took increasing responsibility for their own learning. However, a minority of pupils lacked confidence and needed encouragement to persevere and look for solutions when they faced difficulties. In a few schools, many pupils were diligent and had high aspirations for their future. In these schools, they took part in stimulating extracurricular activities that helped them expand their horizons. See the Whitmore High School case study for ideas on how to develop an effective culture for learning. In a few cases, pupils showed a lack of interest in their work and engaged in disruptive behaviour, which impacted on their learning and that of others.
In many schools, pupils benefited from a wide range of opportunities to influence school life and develop their leadership skills. The Ysgol Bro Myrddin and Stanwell School case studies provide helpful examples. As well as the school council, many schools had pupil groups that promote awareness of issues that are of concern to them such as the environment, promotion of the Welsh language or LGBTQ+ issues. Most pupils in the sixth form had beneficial opportunities to develop their leadership and interpersonal skills through activities such as leading various pupil groups, leading houses, and mentoring and supporting vulnerable pupils.
Most pupils developed their understanding of how to make healthy eating and drinking choices suitably, although most schools reported increased issues with vaping on the school site. In a minority of cases, staff offered pupils high levels of encouragement to take part in extracurricular activities and the school offered many opportunities that catered for a wide range of interests.
Teaching and learning experiences
During periods of lockdown, teachers had to make significant adaptations to the way in which they taught. One positive outcome of this was that most teachers developed their ability to use a wide range of digital applications to enhance their teaching. Since pupils returned to the classroom, teachers faced stringent safety and hygiene measures that inhibited their teaching. These included:
- prohibitions on moving around the classroom
- the need for pupils and staff to wear facemasks
- prohibitions on certain activities such as group or practical work
- the need to ‘quarantine’ pupils’ work before marking
These measures posed a significant barrier to effective classroom teaching.
Since the lifting of these measures, many teachers returned to their previous methodologies such as organising group work, moving around the classroom to check pupils’ understanding and offering individual support. However, a few remained anxious and tended to remain at the front of the class and deliver their lessons from there. In these cases, there was a lack of beneficial interaction between teachers and pupils.
In a very few schools, teaching was exceptionally effective in bringing about improvements in pupils’ learning. In these cases, nearly all teachers knew their pupils well and used information from assessment skilfully to adapt their teaching. Most teachers planned their lessons meticulously and provided pupils with stimulating and high-quality learning resources. They were ambitious for their pupils and offered them very high levels of challenge. They explained complex ideas by breaking them down into simpler steps and modelled sophisticated problem-solving approaches so that pupils could emulate and apply them. They supported pupils’ learning through targeted individual assistance and withdrew the level of support skilfully to develop their independence. See Whitmore High School’s case study for information on how they developed a whole-school approach to securing high standards in teaching and learning.
In most schools, teachers fostered positive working relationships with pupils and managed their classrooms effectively. In general, they were good language models and had strong subject knowledge and understanding. A majority of teachers had appropriate expectations of what pupils could achieve and planned their lessons effectively, organising knowledge and skills into sequential steps that build logically on each other. They shared their learning aims clearly with pupils and fostered a learning environment where pupils were unafraid of making mistakes. They adapted their teaching to match pupils’ understanding skilfully.
There were common shortcomings in teaching in a minority of lessons. Most frequently they included:
- low expectations of what pupils could achieve
- poor planning, where pupils were given series of unchallenging tasks that kept them busy but did not bring about improvement
- a lack of communication around what pupils were expected to learn
- a lack of adaptation to meet pupils’ level of ability or understanding
- poor control of pupils’ behaviour
- in Welsh-medium and bilingual schools, there was often insufficient encouragement for pupils to use Welsh, and teachers did not always use the language in their teaching or in their interactions with pupils
A majority of teachers used a wide range of assessment methods appropriately. In the most effective cases, they did not mark all pieces of work thoroughly. Instead, they constantly monitored pupils’ understanding during lessons and offered them verbal feedback and advice on how to improve their work there and then. These teachers targeted extended pieces of work that allowed pupils to draw together several aspects of their recent learning. These pieces of work were marked carefully against shared criteria and teachers offered pupils useful written feedback on things they’d done well and aspects that required improvement. Teachers ensured that pupils responded to these and made improvements.
A majority of teachers used a wide range of questioning techniques to develop pupils’ thinking and get them to elaborate on their answers well. They ensured that all pupils were involved in answering questions. The most effective teachers got pupils to comment on other pupils’ responses, this ensured that they had to listen carefully and developed their ability to thinking critically. However, a minority of teachers either did not ask pupils questions or relied solely on closed questions to check recall.
Although many leaders were positive about the possibilities for innovation offered by the Curriculum for Wales, many schools put their plans for substantial change to their curriculum on hold in the short-term because of the pandemic. Where leadership was strong, secondary schools returned to their planning during 2021-2022 and were making good progress to prepare for Curriculum for Wales, with a determined focus on improving teaching and high quality professional learning.
A notable feature from a number of secondary inspections was the way that schools were designing their curriculum with a strong focus on their locality, as exemplified in this case study from Cathays High School. In the best cases, schools recognised the need to foster strong curriculum links with their partner primary schools to support curriculum design.
Progress towards the Curriculum for Wales was slower or inconsistent across the curriculum in some schools. This is because they focused too much on curriculum vision and design at the expense of improving the quality of teaching and provision for the progressive development of pupils’ skills. This set of self-reflection prompts is intended to support secondary schools when planning for the Curriculum for Wales.
Schools in general were concerned about how they would assess and track progress under the new curricular arrangements, and about the implications of new qualifications for the Curriculum for Wales.
In many schools, staff had been trialling new approaches to their planning. Where these were most successful:
- departments thought carefully about the subject knowledge, skills and experiences that pupils need to develop
- where appropriate, staff considered carefully where learning would benefit from natural synergies between subjects
- progression in pupils’ skills and knowledge had been carefully planned beforehand (see the Ysgol Penglais case study)
- staff planned any collaborative work carefully and were given time to think about their approaches to teaching and learning
- departments had worked on developing their teaching approaches to maximise the benefits for pupils’ learning
Where these approaches were less successful, departments:
- had planned thematic or cross-curricular approaches without careful consideration of why this might be beneficial
- had thought more about what they want pupils to do rather than what they want them to learn
- had produced tick sheets for pupils to identify which particular aspect of the four purposes of the Curriculum for Wales they were developing
- had not considered carefully enough how they would approach their teaching
Overall, secondary schools did not plan well enough in partnership with primary schools to ensure consistent progression in knowledge and skills across the curriculum. This was especially the case for ICT and Welsh in English-medium schools.
In general, schools offered pupils appropriate learning opportunities in their personal and social education (PSE) programmes. However, in a minority of cases, planning for relationships and sexuality education (RSE) especially around areas such as sexuality, sexual health and attitudes towards relationships, was at an early stage. In a majority of schools, humanities departments were planning appropriately to expand their examination of the history of minority ethnic groups in Wales. For more details see our thematic report on the Teaching of Welsh history, including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic history, identity and culture and our resource for pupils to explore this issue. A summary of the report is available here.
In general, most schools offered their pupils a reasonably broad and balanced curriculum. However, a growing number of schools were allowing pupils to make subject choices for qualifications in Year 8. This strategy allowed pupils more time to study and prepare for examinations. However, it restricted the breadth of pupils’ learning experiences. In addition, many pupils were not ready to make these choices during Year 8, having only experienced four terms in secondary schools. In a very few cases, the school’s curriculum did not meet statutory requirements.
This year, we also looked at the overall curriculum opportunities across schools, colleges and work-based learning for 16 to 19-year-olds across Wales. We found that there is too much variation in the opportunities for young people depending on where they live. You can read more about our findings here.
Many schools planned suitably to develop pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum. However, planning to develop pupils’ ICT skills was at an early stage in most schools.
A majority of Welsh-medium schools paid good attention to developing pupils’ command of Welsh and celebrating Welsh heritage and culture, as exemplified in Ysgol Bro Myrddin’s case study. In a minority of cases, this aspect was not enough of a priority.
In bilingual and English-medium schools, there were too few opportunities for pupils to use Welsh outside of Welsh lessons. Often, bilingual schools did not offer pupils a wide enough range of courses to study through the medium of Welsh.
Care support and guidance
School staff were acutely aware of pupils’ needs upon their return to school following periods of lockdown. Nearly all schools made pupils’ well-being a priority. In most cases, staff offered strong support for pupils with specific emotional, health and social needs and made good use of external agencies when necessary. Increasingly, schools expanded and adapted their own provision to support pupils’ well-being because of increased demand and difficulty accessing external services. As a result of their efforts in this area, many pupils felt well cared for by their school and adjusted well to returning to ‘normal’ schooling.
In all schools, staff strived to develop an inclusive ethos. Most offered pupils a wide range of opportunities to promote their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. They encouraged pupils to celebrate difference and promoted equality strongly. In many cases, they also provided them with helpful advice on future pathways, as illustrated in this case study from Stanwell School.
Most schools had well-considered procedures for dealing with any incidents of bullying and harassment and many had an effective behaviour policy that was applied consistently by most staff. In response to an increase in low-level disruption and difficulties experienced by a minority of pupils in readjusting to school routines following the pandemic, many schools reviewed their behaviour policies and had a renewed focus on this. In a few cases, there was inconsistency in the way in which staff applied sanctions and rewards. This often led to confusion among pupils and a sense of unfairness. Many schools were developing their provision for preventing and tackling incidents of sexual harassment appropriately. See our report on Peer-on-peer sexual harassment among secondary school pupils for more information. We also have resources for schools to use to explore this issue, as well as a pupil-friendly version of the report and a summary of the report here.
Nearly all staff understood their roles and responsibility in keeping children safe and there were suitable arrangements for staff training in matters relating to safeguarding and child protection in nearly all schools. However, in a few cases, schools’ systems for recording pupils’ concerns were not sufficiently robust or secure. In few cases, schools did not ensure that the site was secure enough or that they complied with health and safety legislation sufficiently.
The provision for pupils with additional learning needs was a strength in many schools. In general, learning support teams knew pupils with additional learning needs well and provided well-considered support for their learning. In most cases, schools were making good progress in preparing for the requirements of the Additional learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) (ALNET) act. In general, ‘One-page profiles’ and ‘Individual Education Plans’ provided staff with detailed information on how to meet the needs of specific pupils and included clear, measurable targets. Where schools had a specialist resource base, they provided a safe and welcoming environment and ensured that pupils within them were integrated into mainstream classes appropriately.
Most schools had effective systems to track pupils’ progress and well-being. Staff used information from this system well to provide well-considered interventions to support pupils’ well-being and their academic progress.
Since September 2021, most schools kept a close eye on pupils’ attendance and increasingly promoted the importance of consistent attendance, although found tackling persistent absence particularly challenging.
During periods of lockdown, school leaders faced new, rapidly evolving problems. They reacted with fortitude and resilience to keep their school community safe and to mitigate the impact of measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Leaders experienced considerable additional demands on their workload. Despite the huge challenges they experienced, many leaders kept an eye on future developments and continued to make strategic decisions where these were possible.
During periods of lockdown, many schools altered the timings and structure of the school day. Many schools retained some of these aspects, especially ‘split breaktimes and lunchtimes’ where different year groups have their breaks at different times. However, these arrangements involved extra demands on staff to supervise pupils and impacted negatively on lunchtime clubs. In a very few cases, lunchtimes were too short for pupils to socialise, relax or pursue other interests but some pupils, especially those who are younger, said that this arrangement was beneficial as they did not feel intimidated by older pupils.
Most senior leaders developed their communication with parents and guardians substantially during periods of lockdown. In many cases, this took the form of weekly vlogs or emails to provide updates on policies, and surveys to canvass parents’ views on the school’s provision. In general, parents and guardians very much appreciated this regular contact, and relationships between home and the schools have become closer.
During periods of lockdown and after the return to face-to-face teaching, leaders prioritised the well-being of both pupils and staff. The normal quality assurance processes such as lesson observations were suspended. Since returning to more usual school life and processes, senior leaders carefully considered the balance between holding staff to account and supporting their well-being. In a majority of schools, leaders returned to implementing their whole suite of activities to inform self-evaluation. However, because of the hiatus in these activities, leaders did not always have a comprehensive understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement in their schools. A common shortcoming among leaders at all levels was a lack of understanding of how to evaluate teaching in light of its impact on learning. This set of self-reflection prompts supports schools to improve this aspect of their work.
In most schools there was a strong sense of collaboration. Roles and responsibilities were distributed thoughtfully, lines of accountability were clear and there was good communication. In a few schools, however, the distribution of responsibilities was not equitable and too many heavy responsibilities were given to a few senior leaders.
In many cases, senior leaders were responding to national and local priorities such as the additional learning needs transformation programme and the development of their curriculum well. A majority of Welsh-medium and bilingual schools placed a high priority on ensuring that pupils were developing their command of the language. However, in a minority of instances, this was not the case.
In many schools, governors played an active and beneficial role in supporting the school. In the best examples, they had a comprehensive understanding of the school’s strengths and areas for improvement and offered leaders robust challenge that helped guide their decisions. In a few cases, governors did not understand their role in offering leaders challenge well enough.
All schools received substantial uplifts to their budgets due to specific grants. As a result, most schools were in a positive financial position. However, due to the conditions and timescales linked with spending specific grants, leaders were not always able to use these additional funds to bring about the greatest impact.
In a majority of schools, professional learning was well planned and had a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning. In the most effective cases, leaders planned a range of beneficial activities that helped staff keep abreast of findings from relevant research to inform their practice and newly qualified teachers were supported effectively through a comprehensive induction programme. The case studies from Cathays High School and Ysgol Penglais explain how leaders have developed the professional learning provision in their schools. In a few cases, professional learning did not focus strongly enough on improving teaching.