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Professor highlights achievement gap

Professor Egan: Clarity lost with new initiatives .

AN EDUCATION advisor has accused Welsh Government education initiatives of failing, as he says a huge gap has developed between poor and well off areas in Wales.

The issue was investigated in a BBC programme this week, with Professor Egan saying: “There is a huge gap between those parts of Wales where deprivation is at a high level and those parts of Wales where that’s not the case. There’s a significant gap and we’re not narrowing that gap at the moment. It’s a particular concern in some areas of Wales – not just the Valleys. We’ve just kept on bolting on one initiative after another and we’re now beginning to see that that’s been a significant problem. We didn’t have an implementation plan that avoided just having another initiative, another policy, something else. And so the clarity, as it were, was lost.”

The programme exposed 5 areas of Wales that consistently scored the lowest results in last year’s english language reading and numeracy tests: Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen. In a 2010 in a National Survey of Adult Skills in Wales it was shown that in excess of 900,000 people have maths skills equivalent to year 5 and 6 primary school pupils. Indeed, in Blaenau Gwent, Wales’ worst performing area, more than 27% of the adult population were shown in a UK Government 2011 census to have no qualifications whatsoever.

Commenting on this was a Welsh Government spokesperson, who said: “We are making important progress in closing the attainment gap between those young people from deprived backgrounds and the rest of the school population. The latest figures show that the performance of Free School Meal pupils has improved at all levels and we have reduced the gap in attainment between these pupils and their counterparts at the Foundation Phase as well as, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. Whilst we very much welcome this progress, we have more work to do. Our National Literacy and Numeracy Framework is designed to help teachers embed literacy and numeracy into all subjects for learners aged 5 to 14; our Schools Challenge Cymru programme is seeing 40 of our most challenged schools being supported by up to £20m of additional funding and the Pupil Deprivation Grant is being raised to £1,150 by 2016. We have also recently published Professor Graham Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ report which proposes a set of radical and exciting proposals for a new curriculum in Wales.”

From the leading teaching union, Owen Hathway, NUT Cymru Policy Officer, said: “We know that there has been historic challenges facing schools in the most deprived communities in Wales, none more so than the funding problems they face. There are serious issues in education attainment there that are increasingly more difficult to tackle at a time of shrinking budgets. It is possibly a case that there has been numerous initiatives, many of which are well meaning and important, but perhaps do not work as part of an overarching vision. That was one criticism of the education system in Wales that came out of the OECD report. Closing the attainment gap between our most deprived areas and others is a complex issue that simply won’t have a magic bullet solution. It is very much the case that this is a community and society issue not simply and education one. However there is no doubt that teachers working in those schools are working above and beyond expectations to try and ensure that all pupils, regardless of their backgrounds, have the best opportunity to fulfil their potentials.”

Also commenting on these statistics was Mid and West AM, and Shadow Minister for Education, Simon Thomas, who stated: “Plaid believes closing the gap between economically disadvantaged children and the better-off should be a priority for the Welsh Government. The gap at GCSE increased between 2013 and 2014 and now stands at 33.8 percentage points. International reports have identified the problems and it is now up to the Welsh Government to deliver on solutions. The Labour party has failed in its attempts to raise educational standards in Wales.”

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