School standards framework could miss its target

Architect of SEF says too many pilot schools are in leafy suburbs not areas of deprivation

Darren Evans

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The performance-raising school effectiveness framework (SEF) will fail if it does not shift focus to Wales's poorest pupils.

That is the verdict of Professor David Egan, a former Assembly government adviser and one architect of the framework, who addressed a largely teacher audience in Llandrindod Wells last week. He said Wales must break the "insidious link" between poverty and low attainment, but that achievement would only rise with greater concentration on schools in the most deprived areas.

The framework, launched in 96 pilot schools last month, is being introduced nationally over the next four years. It will tackle underperformance and seek to narrow the gap between the best and worst- performing schools through a cross-authority promotion of good pedagogy.

But teaching standards at trial schools have already been judged satisfactory or better by Estyn inspectors, and many are located in leafy suburbs, not areas blighted by social deprivation.

"Children in our most disadvantaged areas desperately need their schools to be effective for them," Professor Egan, director of the Institute for Applied Education Research at UWIC, told delegates. "The concentration has to be on our most disadvantaged schools, otherwise it's not worth doing it."

He was speaking at a conference held primarily to discuss Raise (raising attainment and individual standards in education in Wales).

More than 600 schools with 20 per cent of their intake entitled to free school meals have benefited from grants to help them beat disadvantage and poor attainment. The extra funding was made available in 2006 after an unexpected budget windfall to Wales from Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Officials believed the cash should not be spread too thinly, so pound;16 million was pumped into schools during 2006-07 - pound;13m of which was provided by Westminster and a further pound;3m by the Assembly government.

The decision to set the cut-off point for Raise at 20 per cent entitlement to free school meals left some headteachers of schools in deprived areas angry that they had been unfairly disadvantaged.

Professor Egan maintained there had not been nearly enough cash, or targeted help, to tackle the "corrosive and toxic" link between poverty and poor results in Wales - an educational barrier other countries in a similar situation have already tackled successfully.

He said initiatives such as Flying Start, which give targeted help, including free childcare, to the parents of under-3s, were helpful.

But he asked if schools in disadvantaged areas of Wales should have more funding, and whether a complete overhaul of the secondary school system is needed.

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "Schools selected for the SEF pilot across Wales include a mix of socially advantaged and disadvantaged schools, as well as those in different locations, and those of different size, language and faith.

"The pilot school selection criteria were agreed with the LEAs to ensure that pilot schools did not become overloaded and adversely affect outcomes for children and young people," he added.

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Darren Evans

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