The effect of the pandemic, staffing issues and the pressures of implementing a new syllabus have all helped raise fears that some schools could fall into special measures, through no fault of their own.
The GwE education service’s senior secondary lead Elfyn Jones told a meeting that when the Government’s Estyn inspections resumed there was “concern” at just how unprepared many schools were as the new syllabus was being rolled out.
The joint local authority education advisory group heard on Wednesday, that around 13 head teachers and many experienced school governors had left during the pandemic.
Many primary and secondary schools across all six of the north Wales local authorities were still facing recruitment issues.
Some schools were running with fewer or less experienced staff, who were now having to “get to grips,” with a new curriculum launched this September term.
The cost of living crisis was also adding further pressures.
Arwyn Thomas GwE’s managing director reported that since the 2015 publication of a ‘Successful Future,’ an independent review by Professor Graham Donaldson, to improve education in Wales, the Welsh Government had embarked on a “cycle of significant change to realise a new curriculum.”
But, since March 2020, Covid had “undoubtedly affected the capacity to tackle the reform journey.”
“As schools prioritised responding to the pandemic, most of their schedules and original plans to prepare and implement the new curriculum were disrupted.” He said.
A former Estyn inspector himself, he reported that the “The effect of Covid-19 continues to be a challenge as leaders deal with staff absences and a shortage of full-time teachers.”
He also said many of the schools worst affected during the pandemic had been in the more “deprived areas.”
The meeting heard from Councillor Julie Fallon how the crisis had seen an impact on learning outcomes, attendance records, children’s mental health and wellbeing and created behavioural problems for some pupils.
Cllr Fallon said:
“We can’t underestimate what impact Covid has had on schools, they are all at different levels.
“How can any school be assessed? It is not a level playing field.
“If you started in year seven, four years ago, it is a completely different story to the kids who started in year seven, ten years ago.” She said.
“I am concerned that schools could now be being judged on outcomes that were out of their control. ”
“I don’t think we should be putting more pressure on our schools.”
Cllr Ian Roberts said inspection were “a necessary evil” but added “we know schools have worked hard during the pandemic, and many are still working hard to deal with matters.
“Estyn needs to be careful the schools are coming out of a period of considerable challenge.”
Councillor Beca Brown said:
“Covid isn’t over yet, yet we are still suffering from the side effects.
“We are now in a cost of living crisis which is going to add further issues for families and young people.
“Any communication with the minister with regard to this, I support.”
Cllr Fallon added: ”
“I propose we raise the issues with Estyn and work with them on this, and it is important to raise the matter with the Minister, too.
“Our children deserve a quality education, and we need to ensure our young people get the education they deserve.
“It takes a long time for a school to get over the impact of going into special measures.”
The members agreed to write to Estyn, and are to meet with the Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles.