PUPILS OF average ability have benefited most from a programme to raise standards in key stage 3, according to a report by Welsh schools inspectorate Estyn. But the progress of boys of both high and low ability is still not as good as it should be, despite improved methods of teaching and learning.
Four years after the launch of the Aiming for Excellence programme, Estyn's report concludes that much still needs to be done to make "learning good in all lessons".
But the must-do-better message comes with praise for "significant improvements" in overall progress - especially with average ability and special needs pupils.
The programme is said to have stimulated teachers to plan more interesting learning activities. Pupils are generally less bored and better behaved, according to the report. Standards in literacy, numeracy and ICT have all gone up, with 60 per cent of teaching in 2005-6 rated at grade 2 or above, with 1 being the highest grade.
Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said teachers "needed to see how far they had come". He added:
"Progress has been made but Estyn is looking for us to hit 100 per cent of pupils - that is difficult to do."
For things to improve, he said, more funding had to be made available for teacher training.
The 2002 document, Aiming for Excellence in Key Stage 3, called for the development of strategies to raise literacy, numeracy and ICT skills. Among the aims was the narrowing of the performance gap between boys and girls; helping pupils of average and below average ability to achieve more; and providing more challenging work for the more able and gifted.
But the Estyn report says that less able boys are often impeded at KS3 because they have poor literacy skills, particularly writing.
One of the report's major recommendations for schools is to target, support and train teachers working with minority groups who are not doing so well.
Estyn also wants to see more emphasis on thinking skills, which help pupils to explore subjects more deeply.
The report found a lack of consistently good teaching in KS3 and called for a "whole-school approach".
But Susan Lewis, HM chief inspector for education and training in Wales, said: "Standards for pupils' skills at improving their own learning, their problem-solving skills and their ability to work with others are good in the majority of schools and improved year on year."
An Assembly government spokesperson said that it was addressing many of the recommendations: "Estyn's report is very positive. It is clear that the Aiming for Excellence programme has made a significant contribution to helping schools and local authorities to raise standards in KS3."