First, learn the lessons of poverty

t may not look like it at key stage 3, but this year's teacher assessments results are positive. They are encouraging because they are a true reflection of children's achievement based on the professional judgment of a teacher and not an exam paper.

Unlike England, there has been no marking fiasco making unsavoury headlines this summer as the Sats system came crashing around Ed Balls, England's Schools Secretary. Surely the debacle is complete validation of Wales's move to abolish testing and usher in teacher assessment.

Growing claims that teaching to the test has created a false and inflated impression of the achievement of 11- and 14-year-olds in England distorts their reality. But what you see in the well-presented statistics released by the Assembly government last week is what you get.

It is not all good news, granted.

The first ever breakdown of figures for reading, writing and maths at KS3 shows Wales has a long way to go. There is a real need to address the apparent downturn from KS2.

However it does not take brain science to see that dreadful teenage performances in the most deprived areas in Wales are dragging down overall attainment levels. In Blaenau Gwent, for example, just 47.3 per cent of 14-year-olds reached the required standard for the three Rs. In more affluent counties, such as Vale of Glamorgan, Monmouthshire and Powys, there was at least a 15 percentage point difference.

Poverty, it seems, is still a huge factor affecting Welsh educational achievement, something critics are keen to level at the Labour government. But there is hope. From good and honest teacher assessment, we can only go up. The new skills-led curriculum and the gradual introduction of the 14- 19 learning pathways are all designed to catch teenagers before they fall. Increased individual career and lifestyle help for young people from learning coaches can only bring us back from the brink.

The greatest challenge for the Assembly government, it seems, is in addressing poverty which is still having a profound and lasting effect on the educational life chances of thousands of young people in Wales.

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