Estyn, like spring, has bloomed early this year with the publication of my annual report for 2003-4. However, this year's report is a bit unusual in that it compares developments in education and training during the year with trends over the past five years - the years which preceded the start of new inspection arrangements from September 2004.
I am delighted to say there has been much to celebrate, with some of the biggest improvements coming this year. In a nutshell, the under-fives have improved year on year, pupils with special needs have achieved much more than previously, and there has been a big improvement in the standards achieved by our primary and secondary pupils.
Test results have improved greatly in key stages 2 and 3, though less so in KS3. In the past three years almost all schools and local education authorities have done a lot to help pupils do better when they move from primary to secondary school.
Overall standards are better now than five years ago in further education.
More students are finishing their courses and gaining qualifications.
Progress has been made in youth support services, Careers Wales companies'
provision, teacher training and New Deal programmes.
However, too few learners in Wales have the qualifications they need to improve their job prospects or to meet the needs of a modern Welsh economy.
Even by the age of 14, there are pupils who do not perform well and have lost interest in the usual subjects.
Boys are more likely than girls to underachieve, be excluded from school or break the law. In general, those young people who are involved with the youth justice system in secure settings, or who have been referred to youth offending teams, do not have satisfactory education and training.
Young people at all ages and stages need courses that will hold their attention, build their self-confidence, improve their basic and key skills and allow them to gain useful qualifications. There are more courses on offer for them than ever before. But the quality of much work-based training, and of courses in a few FE institutions, is not good enough and threatens plans to improve choice for 14 to 19-year-olds.
Regarding basic skills, overall there is better support for literacy but not enough for numeracy. This is a worry because more adults have problems with numeracy than literacy.
The quality of support for basic skills is improving, and the total number of students who receive support is steadily rising. However, there are not enough specialist basic skills teachers within the FE and work-based training sectors.
Leadership and management in most areas of education and training have improved but, in too many work-based training providers, it is unsatisfactory.
The leadership training of heads and teachers has helped to improve standards in schools. There is not enough similar training or support for managers in work-based training. They can be isolated and do not meet and exchange ideas or good practice.
Education and training has an important role to play in meeting the Assembly government's target of 5 per cent growth in the number of Welsh speakers by 2011.
LEAs have improved their planning of Welsh-medium education, but in some parts of Wales availability is still not meeting demand. It is also too difficult for many pupils to go on to Welsh-medium or bilingual provision after the age of 16 or to receive support services in Welsh.
The main problem is the lack of teachers, trainers and other workers who are confident enough to use Welsh in their work.
Generally, there are many signs of high standards and improvements, though there is still plenty left to do. Our new system, introduced in September 2004, has reduced the burden of inspection. These now take account of how well each provider is doing, leading to either a short, standard or full inspection.
The new model also means that providers take a more active part through self-evaluation and acting as a nominee on the inspection team. Our aim is excellence for all.
Susan Lewis is chief Inspector of education and training in Wales