Tougher methods for challenging school performance are set to be introduced after a controversial report said standards in Wales have slipped since league tables were scrapped.
The report, by Bristol University's Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) found "systematic and significant evidence" that abolishing secondary school league tables in 2001 markedly reduced school effectiveness in Wales.
TES Cymru understands that high-level talks recently took place within the Assembly government's Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills about the possibility of reinstating league tables to complement the school effectiveness framework (SEF), but the idea was seen as politically unpalatable.
However, officials have acknowledged that the move cost Wales the ability to effectively hold schools to account and share best practice. More pressure is likely to follow next month with the publication of the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings, in which Wales is widely expected to perform poorly.
Education minister Leighton Andrews said: "In Wales, over the decade of devolution, we have implemented most of the changes the profession wanted to see. So we do not have league tables.
"We will see in December when the international comparisons of school performance are reported in the OECD's Pisa survey whether that approach has paid off."
David Reynolds, professor of education at Plymouth University and a former Assembly government adviser, said that although league tables are no longer a "viable policy option" in Wales, the report shows that new ways to make the education system more accountable must now be explored.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, said: "We have to address this gap with a more robust accountability system. Local authorities must engage their schools in a robust dialogue about standards." Mr Andrews has already launched a taskforce looking at the structure of education services and whether some functions can be taken out of local authority control.
The Assembly government abolished secondary league tables in 2001 saying they were "divisive" and not supported by the teaching profession or public. This week all the major teaching unions in Wales rejected any suggestion of their return.
Gareth Jones, director of ASCL Cymru, said they were "irrelevant" to raising standards.
"The key is what has been identified in SEF - reducing the difference in outcomes between schools and within schools, with rigorous data analysis and robust challenge."
David Evans, director of NUT Cymru, said: "We should not be looking to pit school against school, community against community."
The CMPO report claimed the "sizeable" impact of league tables being scrapped was equal to a fall of almost two GCSE grades per student per year, and the effect was worse in poorer schools. However, concerns have been raised over the methodology of the research and the validity of its conclusions. There were also criticisms that the report did not adequately take into account the curriculum and funding differences between England and Wales.