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Exam targets missed

Results and standards in Wales improve, but goals for 2010 are being revised downwards. Karen Thornton reports

The Assembly government has missed most of the ambitious education improvement targets it set five years ago, and has revised downwards its goals for 2010.

While standards and exam results in Wales have risen overall, they have fallen short of the targets set in 2001 in The Learning Country (TLC), the government's 10-year education programme.

Jane Davidson, who became education minister in 2000, said many of the targets had been "inherited" from previous administrations, adding: "We hadn't done the research to see if they were fit for purpose."

At the launch last week of an updated TLC, she said: "We have honed the targets down to those we think are the right ones. Not meeting these will be a far more serious issue because we have set them with stakeholders."

She also promised a more "forensic approach" to breaking the link between poverty and low attainment in Wales. As a result, the focus will be on schools (currently eight) where less than a quarter of pupils achieve at least five A*-C GCSE passes, or where five A*-G passes are low compared to similar schools.

The minister has already launched a controversial pound;16m programme (Raise) targeting funding on the poorest children.

Professor David Egan, her education adviser, admitted the use of targeted projects such as Raise marked a change of approach in Wales - one similar to England's, where schemes such as Excellence in Cities and leadership incentive grants have focused on schools in challenging circumstances.

He added: "We're not saying 'Isn't it awful? We haven't reached the five A*-C target'. We have serious evidence that it is because of the link between deprivation and attainment. We are now putting some money and action into that area."

Significant TLC targets missed and now revised downwards for 2010 include:

* KS2 assessments (originally 90 per cent achieving the expected level in EnglishWelsh, maths and science, revised to 80 per cent, currently 74 per cent);

* KS3 assessments (originally 85-90 per cent, revised to "at least" 65 per cent, at present 57 per cent);

* five A*-C grade GCSEs (originally 75 per cent, revised to "approaching 60", currently 52 and 56 per cent in England);

* five A*-G grade GCSEs (originally 95 per cent, revised to "approaching 90", at present 85 and 89 per cent in England);

* secondary attendance (originally 95 per cent, revised to 93, now 91 and 92 per cent in England).

But the government has delivered on pledges to cut infant and junior class sizes to 30, give free nursery places to all three-year-olds, end national testing at seven, 11 and 14, introduce a Welsh baccalaureate, and pilot Welsh-language sabbaticals for teachers.

Geraint Davies, secretary of the NASUWT Cymru, said the Assembly government had "failed to meet the targets it set for itself". But Brian Rowlands, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, welcomed The Learning Country 2 strategy, adding: "The targets set for raising achievement are more realistic and not as aspirational."

Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "We all want higher standards, but it's important we look at the base we are coming from. Education is not about five A*-Cs, it's about ensuring pupils progress against their own standards.

"I'm confident the Welsh education system is progressing at a much faster rate than in England, and that's a credit to teachers, politicians, professionals and pupils."

Consultations close on TLC2 on June 30, see behaviour 2, RAISE 3, opinion 16 Off the wall: Fairwater junior school in Cwmbran, Torfaen, has reduced exclusion rates by using arts and crafts activities to engage its pupils.

Headteacher Ann Roberts above, says pupils' behaviour has improved markedly since she arrived in 2002, when exclusions were running at 45 per year. See full report on page 5

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