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National School Categorisation System (Wales)

What is the National School Categorisation System?

As part of the Welsh government’s drive to raise the standard of education in schools across Wales, the National School Categorisation System was introduced in 2014. It monitors how primary and secondary schools are performing and identifies the level of support each school needs to  improve to a good level. Within each Local Authority, a support category is also given to special schools and pupil referral units.

This guide for parents gives you an overview of the system, and points you in the direction of more detailed sources.

What are the categories?

Each school is placed in one of four colour-coded categories. This result will determine the level of support it will receive in order to help it improve education standards.

  • Green – needs the least support and will receive up to four days
  • Yellow – will receive up to 10 days of support
  • Amber – will receive up to 15 days of support
  • Red – needs the most support and will receive up to 25 days.

What evidence is used to work out categories for each school?

The calculations are complex, and a full breakdown, with examples, can be seen in the guidance document for schools in the further reading section. Stated simply, categorisations are based on data collected over a three-year period, as well as observations on the quality of leadership and teaching. Schools are judged on how well they are performing against a set of standards.

Primary school categorisations are worked out by data from:

  • teacher assessment
  • attendance.

Secondary school categorisations are worked out by data from:

  • exam results
  • attendance
  • performance of pupils eligible for free school meals.

Is the categorisation process overseen by Estyn?

No. Schools inspectorate Estyn continue to operate as previously, but are not involved in this system. They consider a much broader range of criteria when assessing overall school performance and inspections are much longer. They will know a school’s categorisation code, but this will not inform the outcome of the inspection.

How is each school categorised?

The categorisation of schools is worked out in three stages, where the first is based on desk research (in other words, by analysing data away from a school setting), but the others require interaction with school leaders.

  • Step one. Welsh government analyses data, checking school performance against their standards of measurement.
  • Step two. This is overseen by regional consortia, who make a judgement about the school’s self-evaluation (which involves all areas of learning and all aspects of a school’s life) and decide on its capacity to improve. The regional consortium’s challenge advisor (who has experience in leading a successful school) discusses the school’s self-evaluation with school leaders and governors, and they provide evidence to support their case. The challenge advisor decides on how likely the school is, based on the evidence and discussion with leadership, to have the quality and capacity to self-improve, balanced against how beneficial external support might be to raising standards in the school. The outcome will usually align with step one, since it will indicate how well school leaders use their own performance data to implement their own improvement measures.
  • Step three. This is led by regional consortia but discussed and agreed by schools and Local Authority (LA). The results of the first two steps are jointly used to arrive at an outcome, providing each school with a colour-coded category.

How can I find out which category my child's school has been placed in?

Outcomes for each school are published annually on the My local School website.

What if my child's school thinks the categorisation result is unfair?

Regional consortia have a disagreement procedure in place. School leaders can speak to their challenge adviser to formally log that they dispute the outcome.

What happens once the schools are in categories?

Whichever category they are placed in, schools receive the support they need to improve from challenge advisors (who decide on the appropriate support package). Targets, including quality of teaching as well as outcomes in students' progress and attainment, are agreed as part of an improvement plan to measure progression over a period of time. The suggestions challenge advisors make are designed to offer schools aspirational targets and measures to increase staff motivation, leading to improved outcomes for students.

This usually involves supporting schools as they implement new classroom-based approaches to teaching and learning that have been proven to be effective. Schools who are meeting standards may be encouraged to support other local schools in incorporating what they do well into their teaching practices.

Where schools are able to lead their own improvement, they will be encouraged to do so, but regional consortia can also arrange external support from the private and voluntary sectors, as well as the local community. School leaders often receive additional training or mentoring.

The impact of improvement plans is assessed, and categorisations of schools are made every three-year period. The aim is to encourage continual improvement and development.

What is the timescale for improvement measures to be put into place?

  • Green support category schools have the capacity to support other schools in raising standards.
  • Yellow support category schools identify areas of support and implement an action plan.
  • Amber support category schools work with the regional school improvement service and local authority. The school will then receive a short term tailored package of support to ensure it is possible to make progress and implement best practice techniques in time for the next categorization three years later.
  • Red support category schools will receive intensive support immediately, and progress is closely monitored to ensure the required improvements are met.


Is categorising schools divisive?

Government guidance says that "National School Categorisation is not about labelling schools or creating league tables. It is about helping schools identify what factors contribute to their progress and achievement and what areas to focus on in order to develop." It also encourages "parents and carers to take an active interest in the performance and progress of their child’s school and to support the school on its improvement journey."

Reviewed: February 2018

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