Deprivation not a reason for failure

Tes Editorial

As a result of Swansea council's recent reorganisation plans, there has been a proposal to close Dylan Thomas comprehensive school. Although the council mentioned 12 factors to consider in its consultation papers, it is rather surprising that education standards are not even mentioned as one of the 12 factors.

While exam results are not the only measure of a successful school, Andrew Davies, the local Assembly member, has repeatedly talked about Wales's skills gaps and the need for a well-qualified workforce.

This oversight about educational achievement seems also to have affected Estyn, the school inspection body. Its latest report (April 2004) described Dylan Thomas as a school "that is improving rapidly and has a number of strengths".

Although it states that the pass rates for five or more GCSEs at grade C or better is very low, nowhere does it tell parents and others what these figures are. In fact, over the past three years these have averaged just 11 per cent of pupils. These are probably the worst figures for any comprehensive school in the whole of England and Wales.

Estyn says that as it has a higher proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals (62 per cent) than any other school in Wales, comparisons cannot be made. It is worrying that our school inspectors seem to accept poor educational performance as a result of parental poverty.

If only they had been willing to look across the border to England, where there are plenty of comparable schools. In fact, there are 16 schools (with at least 50 pupils) whose free school meals rates are 62 per cent or more.

In these schools, 42 per cent of children achieve five good GCSEs or better - four times Dylan Thomas's results. Clearly little connection here between poverty and GCSE figures.

The main issue, then, for the children who currently attend Dylan Thomas is not whether the school should remain open, but how can the pupils'

potential be fulfilled and their exam results match those of similar English schools. If school inspectors, Swansea council and local campaigners concentrated on this matter, it would be to the long-term benefit of the pupils who need good qualifications when they leave school.

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