Maxwell's punches land on schools and town halls but he goes easy on government

30th January 2009 at 00:00

It has a new layout and is more user-friendly, but behind the jargon and gloss Dr Bill Maxwell's second annual report packs plenty of punches - and most are aimed at schools and local authorities.

The chief inspector says standards are good or better overall; behaviour is good, signalling effective teaching; special schools can also be proud of excellent teaching standards; and all schools are much better at judging their own performance.

But then Dr Maxwell identifies the challenges. Most damningly of all, he intimates that the Assembly government has failed in its stated post-devolution mission to raise achievement among the most disadvantaged children in Wales. But he levels the blame at schools and city halls.

He attacks schools' use of Raise (Raising Attainment and Individual Standards in Education) funding, which is awarded to schools where more than 20 per cent of pupils are entitled to free meals, claiming that there has been a failure to target the cash.

He criticises schools for focusing funds on a "sub-set" of pupils so that other needy children and teens - especially girls - have missed out.

He regards high levels of pupil absenteeism - far higher than in England - as a failure on the part of local authorities to promote wellbeing and social inclusion.

And he believes they have exacerbated the poverty cycle by failing to set up schemes to stretch the brightest pupils - as seen in the below-expected numbers of top grades at GCSE and A-level.

Dr Maxwell laments "hidden underachievement": children who are doing OK, but could do better with more support.

Local authorities, he says, are slow to challenge weak leadership teams in schools, and some schools are also falling far short.

Interestingly, he does not see a lack of resources as the main reason for flagging standards, although he does acknowledge a lack computers.

Overall, he believes schools offer good value for money and are generally well-resourced.

Dr Maxwell is especially critical of schools and city halls when it comes to bilingualism.

He accuses many English-medium secondary schools of ignoring compulsory Welsh at key stage 4. This, he says, has been heightened by a lack of quality teaching and a shortage of teachers.

The quality of teaching in secondary schools has remained at the same level for the past five years, despite recent efforts to spread good practice.

He says there must be more training opportunities for teachers, and schools should seek help from other agencies.

The general thrust of Dr Maxwell's report is that schools and local authorities - not the government - hold the key to raising standards. His verdict? They can, and must, do better.

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