Poverty does not always mean failure

7th March 2008 at 00:00
As the widening gap between Wales's best and worst performing dominates headlines again this week, it is heartening to find that there is light at the end of tunnel for many schools struggling to make the Estyn grade. (page 1).

In 2006-7 the number of schools in special measures or causing concern doubled to 16. But a closer look at the 11 high-performing primary schools that year - those that clinched seven straight grade 1s - tells its own story. In more than three-quarters of the primaries and special schools, pupil entitlement to free school meals was above the national average of 16 per cent. One, Mount Stuart Primary in Cardiff Bay, has a whopping 52 per cent. Socio-economic disadvantage clearly did not hold back these schools in their tremendous achievement.

High levels of poverty therefore are not always an indicator of failure. But what is? It seems poor self-evaluation is a common theme of failure in the schools that did not come up to scratch.

Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, is in no doubt that all schools must improve their self-evaluation. But poor teaching, often associated with low staff morale, is also a huge contributory factor.

LLanedeyrn High School in Cardiff (page 4) is a clear example of how a school got itself in a rut. With 27 per cent FSM entitlement in a less-than-leafy suburb, its answer to bad behaviour was 345 exclusions in one year. A new leadership team was finally created that gave staff the confidence to give their "badly behaved" pupils a second chance. But the school has shown how Wales's worst can pull itself out of the depths of despair.

For Llanedeyrn High, however, closure is still on the cards. It seems a shame that this school, despite its falling rolls, could shut its gates for the last time. Surely its remarkable recovery, and the turnaround witnessed in pupil achievement and higher attendance, will be lost forever if it is bulldozed?

The school should be issued a "pardon" and used as an example of how the right teacher and teaching practice can win the day over any adversity - including poverty.

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