Starting secondary school is a big step in any child’s life. Families in Newport have just found out which secondary their child has a place at to start in September.

Here we take a look at what education watchdog Estyn says about the secondaries in Newport with the most applications to start in September. Inspectors look at more than just academic achievement, they also look at areas like wellbeing, support and attitudes to learning

The format for school inspections in Wales changed in 2022. Reports no longer have one word summative statements such as “excellent”, “good”, “adequate” or “unsatisfactory” and you read all about details of the changes here. The list below includes only Estyn judgements under the old system, because all three of the over subscribed mainstream secondaries in Newport were inspected before the changes came in in 2022. For details of how places have been allocated for high schools in the city see here

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Estyn judgements on Newport's most over subscribed high schools

Bassaleg School

Bassaleg School
Bassaleg School

This popular school for 11 to 19 year-olds had 473 preferences for 330 available places to start in September 2024. The school was last inspected in 2019 under Estyn’s old regime.

At the time of that report Bassaleg was judged the highest possible excellent for care, support and guidance and the second highest “good” for all other areas looked at; standards, wellbeing and attitudes to learning, teaching and learning experiences and leadership and management.

On teaching and performance inspectors said performance in GCSE years 10 and 11 “generally compares well with that in similar schools”. Pupils in the sixth form were judged to make “sound progress”.

Bassaleg School headteacher Victoria Lambe
Bassaleg School headteacher Victoria Lambe

The report added that “the quality of teaching helps many pupils to develop their skills in a wide range of contexts well. In particular, pupils demonstrate strong literacy skills and express their ideas and views confidently and articulately in discussions and in writing.”

At that time Estyn said the school leadership at all levels had a shared commitment to the values of the school. Bassaleg had just over 1,700 pupils at that time of which around 6% were eligible for free school meals, far lower than the national average of 16.4%, although this may have risen, as elsewhere, since the pandemic and cost of living crisis.

Estyn made three recommendations for Bassaleg School in 2019. These were to:

  • Improve outcomes in key stage 4 in a few areas across the curriculum
  • Improve the attitudes to learning of a few pupils
  • Reduce the variation in teaching and assessment to ensure that pupils of all abilities make sufficient progress

In summary inspectors said: “Bassaleg School is an inclusive school in which care support and guidance is central to its ethos. The school’s comprehensive provision to strengthen pupils’ sense of community, promote respect for diversity, support them to become ethically informed citizens and to develop their leadership skills is a strong feature of its work.

“This has contributed successfully to a culture where equality and diversity are celebrated and where pupils demonstrate a secure sense of social awareness and responsibility.”

The John Frost School

John Frost school in Duffryn, Newport
The John Frost school in Duffryn, Newport

This 11-18 school. formerly known as Duffryn High School had 394 preferences expressed for 248 available places to start year seven in September 2024. It was last inspected under Estyn’s old formula in March 2020 just before the pandemic shut classrooms.

At the time of that visit inspectors said standards as well as teaching and learning experiences were “adequate and need improvement”. All other areas looked at; wellbeing, care, support and guidance and leadership and management were deemed to be the second best possible “good”.

At that time there were 1,207 pupils on roll, including 95 in the sixth form. Around 26% of pupils were eligible for free school meals, higher than the Wales average of 16.4% for secondary schools in 2020, although this has risen since nationally.

On standards inspectors said: “the majority of pupils make secure progress in their knowledge, understanding and skills, and achieve well in external examinations. They have secure recall of prior learning, apply this well to new situations and make sound progress.”

But they added: “A minority of pupils do not make sufficient progress or apply their prior learning well enough”. In a minority of lessons, teachers were also judged not to provide a suitable level of challenge”. The school was praised for improving behaviour and attendance. Inspedtors said “most pupils behave well, are considerate of others and have a positive attitude to their learning.”

At that time Estyn made five recommendations for The John Frost School to improve. These were to:

  • Improve pupils’ standards, particularly their speaking, writing and information and communication technology skills
  • Improve teaching and assessment
  • Strengthen the work of the school council
  • Improve the effectiveness of a minority of middle leaders
  • Ensure that reports to parents meet statutory requirements

In summary the report said that in 2020: “The John Frost School is a caring community that provides a calm and purposeful learning environment for pupils and staff alike. Pupils are welcoming and friendly, and convey a strong sense of pride in their school. They behave well in lessons and around the school, and the majority make secure progress in their learning. "

Inspectors said most teachers nurtured positive working relationships with pupils and many had secure subject knowledge. The report went on to say that: "in the majority of lessons, teachers provide helpful activities and clear explanations. "

But inspectors warned that "in general teachers do not develop pupils’ thinking or independent skills well enough" They said that “in a minority of lessons, teachers do not adapt activities sufficiently to meet the needs of pupils of different abilities."

Inspectors said that the school "provides high quality care, support and guidance and promotes tolerance and respect successfully.” It added that pupils are supported well and enabled to develop as caring, well-informed citizens.

St Julian’s School

St Julian's School, Newport
St Julian's School, Newport

This school for 11 to 18 year-olds has 1,500 pupils. It had 368 preferences expressed for 242 places available to start year seven in September 2024.

St Julian's was taken out of Estyn’s highest level of monitoring, special measures, during the pandemic in November 2021. A follow up monitoring report at that time detailed how it had improved in the four year’s since it was placed in special measures in 2017.

Before 2017 that it had been deemed in need of significant improvement a decade ago in 2014. But now the school has turned its fortunes around.

In their 2021 monitoring report inspectors said: “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the school’s primary focus has been on supporting the wellbeing of its pupils and helping them to settle back into school after periods of lockdown.”

It said St Julian’s had “continued its work to raise pupils’ achievement and develop their skills, independence, and resilience.” Inspectors found this work had had a positive impact and “supported suitable improvements in the standard of pupils’ work”.

The school had “reviewed thoughtfully” how to monitors pupils’ learning and benchmark that against which to evaluate future progress. Inspectors said that in many lessons pupils made suitable progress.

A majority of pupils listened respectfully to the teacher and participate successfully in group and pair activities, the report said. But a minority of pupils were said not to be confident in their independent use of “reading strategies” and were over-reliant on their teachers at that time.

In a few instances, middle leaders were found to have “insufficient impact on the quality of teaching and assessment, and the standards that pupils achieve”. On the school’s leadership inspectors found that: “Leaders at all levels undertake a wide range of useful self-evaluation activities to gain an accurate understanding of standards, teaching and the development of pupils’ skills.”

The majority of St Julian’s pupils come from four primary schools – Glan Usk, St Julian’s, Eveswell and Maindee Primary Schools. A “substantial number” also transfer from about 10 other primary schools from across the city.