Welsh schools have almost closed the gap with England on the key measure of success in GCSEs, according to figures published this week.
Exam results for the principality show that 46 per cent of Welsh 15-year-olds achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE this year, compared with 46.3 in England. Comparable figures for 1997 were 44 per cent in Wales and 45.1 in England.
However, there is a little more ground to make up on the other indicators - only 82 per cent of Welsh pupils got five or more GCSEs at grades A* to G,compared with 87.5 in England, for instance - but schools in the principality have continued to make steady improvement.
Peter Hain, the Welsh education minister, hailed "another fine performance" from Welsh schools and said they were on target to meet the Governments aim that 54 per cent of Welsh 15-year-olds achieve at least five A* to C grades at GCSE by 2002.
But they still have a lot of work to do to meet another Government target: that, by 2002, half of Welsh pupils should achieve at least a C in the core subjects of maths, science and either Welsh as a first language or English. Only 34 per cent reached that level this year, the same as last.
Also stuck on a plateau is the performance of Welsh pupils at A-level. Their average points score was 16, equivalent to two Cs and a D, for the third year running. The average for pupils in English schools and colleges this summer was 17.8, equal to three Cs.
Only two schools in Wales got all their 15-year-olds over the five A* to C grade hurdle and they are both independent: Netherwood School in Pembrokeshire and St Johns College in Cardiff. The top-scoring state school was Ysgol Gyfun Bro Myrddin in Carmarthenshire, with 82 per cent getting five A* to Cs, followed by Cowbridge comprehensive in the Vale of Glamorgan, with 81 per cent.
Wales bases improvements in school performance on three-year rolling averages: this year, the increase between the 19957 average and the 19968 average in the percentage achieving five A*-C GCSEs.
On this basis, the most improved school is Sandfields comprehensive in Neath Port Talbot, with results up from 14 to 19 per cent, a rise of more than a third, followed by Cwrt Sart comprehensive, (also in Neath Port Talbot), with a rise from 24 to 32 per cent.
The school whose average showed the biggest drop was Flint High School, down from 43 to 37 per cent, followed by Penlan, an all-boys comprehensive in Swansea, where the average fell from 22 to 19 per cent.