Poor results at core
CALLS FOR an inquiry into the flagging educational standards of 14-year-olds were made this week after Assembly government figures revealed that Wales is lagging well behind England in the age group.
Provisional assessment results for this year show they are down on England in all three core subjects of maths, English and science.
Maths and science have also slipped on the Wales result for 2006, meaning the government has missed all-important targets set out in the policy document Learning Country: Vision into Action, published last year.
The milestone had been for 60 per cent of all 14-year-olds to reach expected levels this year. However, it came out as 56.7 per cent from 58.2 per cent in 2005.
Many in the teaching profession dismiss a slump in 2006 at all age groups seven, 11 and 14 as simply a "hiccup", claiming the small percentage differences are just a reflection of a "weaker year group".
The Assembly government said it was disappointing to miss targets but claimed that in most cases the downward turn is less than 1 percentage point, a very small number of children.
However, there are deeper concerns across the teaching profession that England is doing better right across the board at key stage 3. The one positive result in the age group was English, where pupils scored higher than last year within Wales. All the results are higher than 1999.
But in England, 5 per cent more 14-year-olds gained the expected level in English, dipping to below 70 per cent in Wales in 2006. In maths, England led Wales by 9 percentage points and 5 in science.
At KS1 and 2, Wales fell behind by a much smaller margin. Science, one of the better results for Wales, was at level pegging.
Last week, education experts over the border were none too happy with their own Sats tests for seven-year-olds when it was revealed that standards slumped to their lowest level for seven years.
Professor David Reynolds of Plymouth University, who is Wales-based, said: "KS3 is really bad and people have known the problem area is 11 to 14-year olds for a while. These assessment results scream out for a national inquiry."
But Professor Reynolds was pleased with other results which indicate that the gender gap between girls and boys is starting to close. At KS2, for example, girls lead boys by just 2.9 per cent in maths, compared with 4 per cent last year.
Phil Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, agreed KS3 was the main area of concern.
But he did not see the overall lower assessment results this year as worrying. He said the advantages of having an assessment system, rather than testing, was envied over the border and very positive for Wales's children.
Dr Dixon said: "The results are going in the right direction and we shouldn't be too concerned about KS2. But we should keep an eye on KS3. I think replacing Sats in Wales with teacher assessment gives our children an advantage over England, where kids are still being tested to death."
Heledd Hayes, NUT Cymru education officer, said: "If Assembly government targets have not been met completely, we have as near as dammit got there."
Chris Howard, National Association of Head Teachers representative for South Wales, who is also head of Lewis School Pengam in Caerphilly, said different styles of marking by teachers could explain some of the anomalies.
"Schools and local authorities are now given time to correct any mistakes which they believe are in the figures before they come out next month these results are just provisional," he said.