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Standards gap widens as exam results soar

Iola Smith and Biddy Passmore report on the findings of the Welsh chief inspector.

ALTHOUGH Welsh pupils achieved their best-ever examination results in 1997-98, the gap between good and bad schools has widened, according to Susan Lewis, chief inspector of schools in Wales.

In her annual report, published last week, she finds there has been a significant rise in standards in secondary and special schools and improvements in the management of schools over the past year.

In primary schools, however, standards have only been "maintained". The report says: "Progress towards increasing the amount of good work continues to be slow and has faltered in some subjects."

At secondary level, the picture is rosier. In the sample of 44 secondary schools inspected, standards have risen significantly overall, with the proportion of good work up by nearly 9 percentage points in key stage 3 and by about 8 percentage points in key stage 4. But in some subjects, such as geography, history, IT, music and physical education, standards in the early secondary years are much lower than in the years leading up to GCSE.

Miss Lewis says pupils' behaviour is at least satisfactory in most schools and good or very good in more than three-quarters of primaries and two-thirds of secondaries. Instances of poor behaviour are usually restricted to a small minority of disruptive pupils.

But attendance is a very different matter. While it is satisfactory in more than 90 per cent of primaries, it is unsatisfactory in 40 per cent of secondary schools. "Levels of intermittent absence are often high; many such absences are inappropriately condoned by parents," the report says.

School buildings were reported as unsatisfactory or poor in nearly one in eight of the primary schools inspected and as deficient in some important respects in nearly half. The most common problems were inadequate toilets, leaking roofs and poor external decoration.

Despite improvements in about 20 per cent of secondaries, the great majority continue to have physical problems that affect teaching and learning. And there is frequent, serious, out-of-hours vandalism in about 15 per cent.

Annual Report of HM Chief Inspector of Schools in Wales, 1997-98, pound;12, available from the Stationery Office's bookshops and accredited agents


Report notes the dip in pupils' achievement at the start of key stage 2 - still the stage with the highest proportion of unsatisfactory or poor teaching (11 per cent).

* Standards in literacy and numeracy are satisfactory or better in around 85 per cent of classes, including just over 40 per cent where they are good. But in literacy inconsistent teaching means many pupils do not progress as fast as they should. And in numeracy, despite signs of more emphasis on mental and oral work, many pupils have a weak understanding of key skills and concepts.

* In information technology, standards are now unsatisfactory or poor in one in five KS1 and one in four KS2 classes - mainly because schools tend to give it lower priority to allocate more time to literacy and numeracy but also because of teachers' inadequate knowledge and skills.

* In PE the proportion of good work has risen at KS1 but fallen in the upper primary years as teachers have concentrated on the 3Rs. Only one in five KS2 classes now gains a good standard and many pupils are "overweight" and make "only limited gains in strength, stamina, speed and flexibility".

* About one in three primary schools either has no system of teacher appraisal in place or has not continued with it beyond the first cycle.

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