Best funded 'get the best results'

Evidence from Wales suggests that, when it comes to exam grades, local education authorities get what they pay for. Adi Bloom reports

Results from Wales this year suggest that exam performance may be closely linked to local authority expenditure.

For the sixth consecutive year, the highest results in Wales were attained by candidates in Ceredigion, which consistently spends more per pupil than any other Welsh education authority .

Meanwhile, authorities such as Newport and Blaenau Gwent, which spend less per pupil on education, emerged with substantially lower results.

Blaenau Gwent was the worst-performing LEA in Wales. Last year the authority spent pound;3,254 per pupil on education: over pound;500 less than the pound;3,757 allocated by Ceredigion. But its schools'

difficulties were compounded by severe deprivation, while Ceredigion has the lowest proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals. Local authorities in Wales receive their funding as a lump-sum payment from the Welsh Assembly. Each authority then decides how much to allocate to each public service.

The success of Ceredigion, said Gethin Lewis, Welsh secretary of the National Union of Teachers, reflected the importance of investment. "We need to look to the lessons of Ceredigion - I hope the Assembly will now call for proper, centralised funding of education, so that the challenges of other areas can be dealt with," he said.

Across Wales, pupils continue to achieve relatively high exam pass rates. In total, almost 60 per cent of Welsh pupils' entries gained A*-C grades at GCSE above the average of 57.9 per cent; 17 per cent of entries achieved A*A grades. At A-level, the pass rate was 95.8 per cent, while 21.15 per cent of entries achieved A grades.

Welsh girls, like those in England, continue to out-perform boys: 64.2 per cent of them achieved grades A*-C at GCSE, compared with 55 per cent of boys. At A-level, 73.6 per cent of girls in the principality achieved grades A-C, compared with 66.4 per cent of boys.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Assembly congratulated students on maintaining high standards, adding that funding alone does not determine their performance.

"Education is one of the Assembly's top priorities, and we would encourage local authorities to fund it accordingly," he said. "Expenditure per pupil is forecast to be around pound;3,200 for 2002-3, which is an increase of 7.1 per cent."

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