A Valleys high school where pupils of all abilities fail to make enough progress in most lessons has been put into special measures and told to improve standards by education watchdog Estyn.

Inspectors who visited Brynmawr Foundation School in  Blaenau Gwent found progress at the 699-pupil school has declined in the last few years.

"A majority of pupils make frequent basic errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar", the report said.

Worryingly, almost one-in-four pupils who completed a questionnaire also said they don’t not feel safe in the school.

The school only came out of three years of Estyn monitoring in 2016.

In the latest inspection report Estyn warned that as well as shortcomings in literacy, pupils don’t develop numeracy skills and only develop their information and communication technology skills in “a very few subjects”.

Pupils at Brynmawr Foundation School celebrating their exam results in 2015. Progress at the 699-pupil school has declined in the last few years, schools inspectorate Estyn says.

Detailing problems their report goes on: “In a majority of lessons, pupils of all abilities generally do not make enough progress.

“They do not recall or use prior learning well enough, nor do they develop their skills sufficiently, particularly in literacy and numeracy. This is an important shortcoming.”

Most pupils “do not listen with sufficient attention” and in many lessons  many pupils are  reluctant to enter into discussion or  answer questions about their work.

“They are often diffident or unsure, and offer only limited verbal responses. In a few lessons, a few more able pupils speak fluently, using a wide range of vocabulary.”

Estyn said pupils’ progress has declined for the past few years.

Performance of pupils eligible for free schools meals has fluctuated and pupils’ performance overall doesn’t compare favourably with that in similar schools.

On the upside, in a few lessons, a few of the more able pupils speak fluently, using a wide range of vocabulary. Pupils make satisfactory progress in their Welsh language skills and “in a few lessons”, such as drama. Many pupils make strong progress.

Many pupils participate eagerly in the annual school production and levels of participation in sport and drama clubs are high, inspectors, who visted in October, found.

But opportunities for those aged 14 to 16 to take part in weekly exercise as part of the curriculum are not ensured and most pupils make unhealthy eating choices because they don’t have sufficient understanding of healthy living.

Teachers only build positive relationships with pupils in a minority of lessons and only a few teachers create a very productive learning environment.

Communication with parents, particularly those who don’t have access to the internet or social media, is not effective either, the inspectors said.

Judging leadership and management unsatisfactory and in need of urgent improvement Estyn said that: “Following a period of consistently poor outcomes, low staff morale and uncertain leadership, the newly appointed headteacher has embarked on a programme of change.”

The head, Gerard McNamara, who took up his post as temporary headteacher in September 2018 and became the substantive headteacher in April this year, is focused on improving leadership and addressing shortcomings in teaching but this work hasn’t had sufficient impact, the document adds.

“Since 2018, the headteacher has worked positively with staff and pupils to create stability following a period of uncertainty and change.

“He has instigated a programme of change across the school that focuses appropriately on strengthening leadership at all levels and developing teaching.

“Staff are engaging enthusiastically in professional learning. However, these changes have not had a sufficient impact on important areas of the school’s work such as teaching and pupils’ standards.”

The school for 11 to 16 year-olds, which serves Brynmawr and the surrounding area, is in the Blaenau Gwent Council local authority area but became grant maintained in 19992 and got foundation status in 1999. This means that while it is state-funded the governing body has greater freedom in the running of the school than in community schools.

About 22% of pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals, which is above the Wales average of 16.4%.

A very few pupils come from minority ethnic backgrounds and English is spoken as the first language in nearly all pupils’ homes.

Inspectors judged standards, wellbeing and attitudes to learning, teaching and learning experiences and leadership and management as unsatisfactory and in need of urgent improvement while care, support and guidance were deemed adequate and in needs of improvement.

Placing the school in special measures Estyn recommended it:  

In England and Wales, a foundation school is a state-funded school in which the governing body has greater freedom in the running of the school than in community schools.

Foundation schools were set up under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to replace grant-maintained schools, which were funded directly by central government.

Foundation schools are a kind of “maintained school”, meaning that they are funded by central government via the local education authority, and do not charge fees to students.

All capital and running costs are met by the government but they are owned either by the governing body or by a charitable foundation.

The governing body employs the staff and has responsibility for admissions to the school, subject to rules imposed by Welsh government.

Pupils follow the National Curriculum.

In Wales it is no longer possible to establish a new foundation school or bring forward school organisation proposals to change from another category of school to become a foundation school.