Inquiry call as results falter
Despite early gains, key stage 3 pupils in Wales now lag further behind England
Key stage 3 results in Wales lagged further behind England last year than at any time since records began.
Comparisons at GCSE - possible through new threshold levels - also show 6 per cent more pupils in English schools obtained five good A*-C grades.
Calls for an inquiry came this week after the latest Assembly government statistics, which were published last week, revealed some big differences in pupils reaching expected standards between the two nations at KS3 in core subjects.
Maths at KS3 had the biggest gap between the two in the 2007 figures, which are based on teacher assessment. Seventy per cent of Wales's 14- year-olds hit the expected level in maths under teacher assessment - 9 points lower than England.
In 2000, when records began, there was just a 2 per cent difference in maths and 1 per cent in English. But the figures also show that as well as widening gaps last year, results were also down in Wales compared with 2006 in all three core subjects at KS3.
The poor performance of the age group is even more surprising as Wales's 11-year-olds (KS2) outperformed those in England in maths and English, and equalled them in science.
The Assembly government admitted this week that the KS3 results were worrying. "We are always open to learning lessons from beyond our borders," said a spokesperson, adding that officials could look deeper into the reasons behind the figures through the School Effectiveness Framework.
The programme, which is due to be piloted in September, will target underperforming schools and teachers by concentrating on raising teaching standards through the national promotion of good practice. This is something experts say has been happening in England for a decade.
But the government also says England's strides forward should not detract from significant improvements in Wales since 1999, particularly in science.
Wales's performance was also better compared with KS3 achievement rates in Yorkshire, which had similar poverty rates and results, the spokesperson said.
David Reynolds, professor of education at Plymouth University, said officials needed to end the speculation about why the performance of 14- year-olds had been so poor.
He said the government should launch an urgent inquiry.
"We need to know why England is improving at a faster rate at KS3 and 4," he said. "Is lack of funding the problem in Wales or is it something else?"
Julie Lawes, director of Catch Up, a British educational charity raising literacy and numeracy standards, defended Wales's achievement record.
"Formalised moderation procedures are gradually being introduced here at KS3," she said. "But this is at an early stage and there remains uncertainty over their reliability and accuracy across all types of schools. We need to be cautious about one year's figures and assuming a trend."
At KS4, GCSE attainment comparisons between the two nations have traditionally been difficult because of different point-scoring systems. But it was made possible for the first time last year after a two-tier system was devised.
Under threshold 1 - pupils achieving five GCSE grades D-G - there was a 4 percentage point difference in England's advantage. Under threshold 2, the proportion achieving five A*-C grades was 55 per cent in Wales compared with 61 per cent over the border.
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