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'Education failure is at the root of poverty'

Educational failure lies at the heart of poverty in Wales, a leading academic has said. Professor Dave Adamson, who helped devise the Assembly Government's Communities First initiative, said there has been little change in poverty levels in Wales since 1996.

In a damning essay, the anti-poverty adviser put poor education firmly at the root of the problem. He said Assembly Government policies have made little difference, despite promises to halve the number of children living in poverty by 2010 and to end child poverty completely by 2020.

Professor Adamson argued that a quarter of the population failed at school and continue to fail to grasp educational opportunities, relegating many to low income, unemployment and benefit dependency.

In his essay, "Still Living on the Edge?", for the academic series Contemporary Wales, published by the University of Wales Press, Professor Adamson writes: "The school curriculum fails to engage the less academic pupils, and the teaching profession often shares the low aspirations of achievement for their pupil populations."

Education experts in Wales differ on the issue. Professor David Egan, director of the institute of applied education research at the University of Wales Institute, in Cardiff, agrees with Professor Adamson's analysis, which he says accorded with his own findings published in 2007.

Professor Egan said a "completely new and systemically different" approach is needed to the way people in disadvantaged areas experience education. He said the school effectiveness framework (Sef) - aimed at raising attainment and being piloted in schools from September - lacks a focus on disadvantaged schools and communities. Unless these issues are addressed urgently, he said, it will prove impossible for the Assembly Government to ensure education plays its "absolutely pivotal role" in attempting to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

But David Reynolds, professor of education at the University of Plymouth, who lives in Wales, said Professor Adamson was "too pessimistic". His conclusion that teachers often shared the low expectations of pupils was "unfair".

"My impression is that schools in the poorest parts of Wales make an effort not to get like that," he said.

An Assembly Government spokesman said "good progress" is being made: child poverty had declined from 35 to 29 per cent since 1998-99. "However, it remains unacceptable that more than a quarter of our children remain in poverty in the 21st-century," the spokesman added. "It is for this reason WAG is implementing innovative programmes like Flying Start and the foundation phase in Wales."

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