Tackling the impact of poverty and disadvantage
The damaging impact of poverty and deprivation on the lives of children and young people in Wales has been a consistent theme in Estyn’s Annual Reports. In 2021-2022, external research and our inspection and engagement work showed that children and young people from deprived backgrounds were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. In many cases, the progress of these learners fell behind that of their more privileged counterparts and their attendance, which was already poorer, became worse. Research by End Child Poverty also showed that child poverty in Wales was worse than in all the other UK nations, with an average of 34% of children in Wales living in poverty.
In statements made in March and June of 2022, the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, emphasised the importance of focusing on poverty and disadvantage in all aspects of educational provision:
Above all else, it is our national mission to achieve high standards and aspirations for all by tackling the impact that poverty has on attainment and to create a truly equitable education system in Wales (https://gov.wales/radical-action-needed-create-truly-equitable-education-system-all).
Our inspection and engagement work showed that some providers were particularly effective at tackling the impact of poverty and disadvantage on their learners. Even though these providers worked to alleviate the specific impact of poverty through provision such as free or affordable school uniform for all, food banks, affordable proms and so on, the main thrust of their work was on delivering high quality provision for all their learners, regardless of their backgrounds and on removing barriers to learning so that all learners had equitable experiences and chances. This relentless drive on comprehensive provision and high standards in all that they did meant that all learners were enabled to thrive. The features underlying the work of these providers offer valuable principles that would benefit the work of all providers, regardless of their context, and are captured below:
- Leaders demonstrated a wholehearted commitment to inclusion and high standards, and conveyed a clear vision that was shared by all involved with the provider and permeated all aspects of its work. For example, at Cathays High School in Cardiff the work of the school is underpinned by the school’s mission of ‘Opportunities for All’ and the headteacher has a clear vision for raising aspirations, broadening horizons and maximising the achievement and well-being of all pupils. Read the full report here.
- There was a relentless focus on high quality teaching and learning for all. For example, in Pantysgallog Primary School in Merthyr there is a strong culture of talking about teaching approaches developing at the school. Teachers work in groups to improve their classroom practice in a supportive way and to learn from each other. Leaders encourage staff to discuss and reflect on their teaching methods and to seek advice about ways to improve. Read the full report here. Teaching in Porth Community School challenges pupils to engage with ambitious tasks that stimulate and enthuse them to tackle difficult concepts. Pupils respond with relish and show just how much they can achieve when given the confidence and support to succeed. Read the full report here.
- There was a strong moral commitment and a culture of high aspirations for all learners, not only broadening horizons through experiences such as trips, talks about universities, competitions and so on but through everyday experiences, such as the level of challenge in lessons, expectations of behaviour and engagement, and the quality of language expected in day-to-day interactions. For example, Whitmore High School in Barry offers its pupils an extensive range of activities and extra-curricular clubs provide valuable opportunities for pupils of all ages and abilities to thrive, develop socially and learn new things. Most teachers have high expectations of what pupils can achieve and many are good role models in the way they speak and use erudite language to communicate with pupils. Read the full report here.
- The providers offered comprehensive well-being provision that was tailored to the needs of individual learners and helped to remove barriers to learning. For example, the Wrexham and Flintshire adult learning in the community partnership provides a good balance and useful range of courses for adults who want to become re-engaged with education, to improve their job prospects, upgrade their English language skills (English for speakers of other languages – ESOL), develop their literacy, numeracy or digital skills or improve their health and well-being. Courses are provided in a variety of appropriate locations, including centres in community venues in rural and urban areas across the two local authority areas. The partnership uses non-accredited short courses well to attract hard-to-reach learners who are less confident about entering or returning to education and training. There is also a small but growing family learning provision, where parents and their children play and learn together, for example through learning the heritage skills of wool felting at the children’s schools. Read the full report here.
- There was effective multi-agency working between the provider and a range of external services within the local authority, charities and beyond. This meant that all agencies had a shared understanding of the needs of individuals, families and the community, and were pulling in the same direction to offer co-ordinated support. For example, Merthyr Tydfil local authority values its partnerships with third sector organisations and recognises the important role they have in supporting the priority to tackle the impact of poverty on the educational success of children and young people. The local authority has established a network of services that work with education providers, including statutory services provided by the local authority and services provided by a range of third sector organisations. Read the full report here.
- The curriculum was flexible and genuinely met the needs of all learners, while also making all learners feel part of the provider’s community.
- The provider was part of the local community and the local community was integral to the provider. The providers knew, understood and supported individual learners, their families and the community very well. For example, in Clwyd Primary School in Swansea, the school’s work in partnership with parents and support agencies is exemplary. There is considerable trust and a shared belief that the school is doing the right thing for pupils and always acting in their best interests. Parents have opportunities to attend workshops focusing on literacy, numeracy and family learning. They also attend sessions from guest speakers on a range of topics, including mental health and anxiety. Specialist agencies attend the school regularly to provide parents with direct support and advice. The pupil-run café enables parents to meet and develop relationships; this is particularly beneficial to those with children in the STF who often live outside the school’s traditional catchment area. Read the full report here.
- Providers looked outwards, to other providers and to research, to find solutions and improve their provision, but always ensured that whatever they adopted was suitable for their context, staff and learners.
- The development of early language skills to prepare young children living in poverty to make a successful transition to school is a key element of provision in non-maintained settings. Where this was most successful, settings worked effectively with a range of partners including health, local authority officers and primary schools to identify children’s needs, plan interventions and ensure consistent approaches to children’s language development. For example, in Merthyr Tydfil local authority, partnerships to support early years provision are particularly strong. These include partnerships with health visitors to encourage good pre-school parenting and with primary schools to support highly effective transition from Flying Start and non-maintained settings. A multi-agency approach ensures that appropriate plans are in place to support children who need additional help when they start primary school. Read the full report here.
- All learners were supported to develop the basic skills that they needed, with a particular focus on literacy skills (especially reading and speaking), and basic numeracy skills. For example, in Waun Wen Primary School in Swansea, the focus on developing pupils’ vocabulary in all lessons contributes strongly to the progress that pupils make across the curriculum and is a strength of the school. There is an effective whole school approach to developing a love of reading and literature. The development of pupils’ reading skills is a priority across the school and there is a systematic approach to developing their skills. There is good use of practical apparatus to promote pupils’ understanding of mathematical skills in all classes and this contributes significantly to the strong progress that pupils make in developing their numeracy skills and to their ability to explain their mathematical thinking with assurance. Read the full report here.
- Providers enabled all learners to see a relevant and feasible future pathway for themselves throughout their educational journey. For example, the work of the Isle of Anglesey’s Youth Service is a notable aspect of the support for learners. There is a youth officer in every secondary school on the island. They offer a drop-in service for learners, support the school’s personal and social education provision, and run youth clubs and evening activities in the community. The service also offers opportunities for learners at risk of disengagement to gain qualifications and experiences, such as employment preparation courses and the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Read the full report here.
- Leaders consistently evaluated the impact of their work on the lives and life chances of the children and young people in their care. All partners are involved in regular opportunities to evaluate the approaches to supporting learners and their families.