Inspectors praise Cardiff Welsh-medium high school's support for pupils


Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr in Cardiff has been praised by Estyn, the Welsh school's inspectorate, for the pastoral care and support it provides for its pupils.

The school, which became the second Welsh-medium high school in Cardiff when it was opened in 1996, was described as a "close-knit community" in the report, the first to be carried out there since 2014.

Its pastoral care and support, it said, is a "notable strength" and inspectors picked out the sixth form for playing its part in supporting younger pupils. "They lead clubs for younger pupils and a number of forums that support pupils to develop their understanding of tolerance, equality and fairness," it added.

With 1,155 pupils on roll, including more than 200 in the sixth form, the Fairwater school takes in pupils from a wide area of western Cardiff. Just over 12% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, against a national average of more than 20%, while 4.5% of pupils have additional learning needs (ALN), against the Wales average of 17.8%.

The head, Dr Rhodri Thomas, took over on January 1 this year, a month before the inspection, and Estyn reported that he had a clear vision for the school and "in a very short time he has identified the main strength and areas for improvement.

"Leaders across the school provide high levels of support for staff and effective leadership in terms of provision for well-being and ALN."

In a majority of lessons, said the report, pupils - including those with ALN - make sound progress in their subject knowledge and understanding. "In a few lessons, pupils make swift and strong progress... many contribute sensibly to class or group discussions and a majority are enthusiastic in their responses. Many listen attentive and contribute in turn."

It reported that a majority of pupils have mature social skills and are articulate and convey their ideas clearly, and many have "sound" vocabulary in Welsh and English, "and a few have a rich, sophisticated vocabulary."

The report also praised the school's "balanced" curriculum that is "enriched by the valuable partnership with other Welsh-medium secondary schools in Cardiff and it has created a "clear vision based on ensuring pupil well-being, developing their values and providing learning experiences that build on previous learning".

But the report noted areas for school leaders to focus on to ensure the school continues to improve. "The quality of teaching or provision for skills is not evaluated incisively enough," it said, adding "those that lead, are not held sufficiently accountable for their work... and in a minority of lessons the quality of teaching isn't good enough."

Inspectors also found that a minority of pupils find it difficult to express themselves in Welsh, using English words or phrases in the middle of sentences... make regular spelling mistakes and "a few make elementary and careless linguistic errors". However, at a school in which 46.5% of pupils speak Welsh at home, "most sixth-formers are enthusiastic about their studies and are proud to study through the medium of Welsh."

Commenting on the report, Dr Thomas said: "Plasmawr prides itself on the pastoral care provided to students which has helped our students as they have faced the challenges of the last few years.

"This focus has helped so many of our older pupils become role models for younger pupils and we are pleased that Estyn has asked us to provide a case study of our sector-leading work on developing the leadership skills of our pupils so that they successfully lead change within and outside the school.

"As a new head the inspection has helped me identify the areas of focus as we move on into our second quarter-century as a school."

Cardiff Council's Cabinet member for Education, Employment and Skills, Cllr Sarah Merry, said: "I'm pleased to see how quickly the new head has made an impact on the school. He and his team, and the wider school, are clearly mindful of the school's motto -Parch, Parodrwydd, Perthyn(Be respectful, Be prepared, Belong) - and the report details the many positive aspects of the school's work.

"We look forward to continue working with the school as it addresses the issues raised in the report and continues to strive for excellence."

Estyn has adopted a new approach to inspection in schools and Pupil Referral Units across Wales. Inspection reports will no longer include summative gradings (e.g. ‘Excellent', ‘Good' or ‘Adequate') and now focus on how well providers are helping a child to learn.

The new approach aligns with the personalisation of the new curriculum for Wales with inspections involving more in-person discussions, placing less emphasis on achievement data.

Estyn believe that the new inspection approach will make it easier for providers to gain meaningful insights that help them to improve without the spotlight on a judgement.