A step closer to a Utopian dream

There is no doubt that Dr Bill Maxwell's second annual report is bold. Education experts this week praised the comments made by the chief inspector and celebrated the good progress of schools overall (page 1). But read behind the lines of this glossy report and you will see all is not so rosy.

The fact that schools are failing to raise the achievements of pupils from poor homes is not their fault. Of course, some schools could do better. But is improved targeting of cash dedicated to this cause ever going to be an answer to breaking the cycle of poverty and raising the achievement levels of children whose home lives are in chaos?

This huge societal problem needs a team effort, but for years schools have been saying it is difficult to hook up with other children's services.

Along with this, the relentless targeting of pupils from socially disadvantaged backgrounds has meant the brightest pupils have been failed.

Heads would protest that a lack of funding and crumbling school buildings makes progress difficult.

Dr Maxwell's belief is that some schools can - and must - do better, regardless of their funding woes. There are schools in disadvantaged areas with a high proportion of poor pupils who buck the trend, so he believes it is possible.

But there is no real evidence yet that good practice is crossing local authority borders, and some schools and teachers have a head start by virtue of their post code.

This week TES Cymru reports that Dinefwr in Carmarthenshire could become a national testing ground for the Assembly government's vision of tri-level reform. The proposals to scrap schools as we know them and establish learning centres instead is seen as the way forward (page 1).

Under the proposals, true teamwork between agencies should come into being. Social workers and police officers will work from offices based at the learning centres, and the centres will receive equal funding.

Until the Assembly government ensures proper structures are in place and there is better funding in children's budgets across the board, schools are chasing a Utopian dream. In the meantime, schools can only do their best under difficult circumstances.

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