WELSH pupils have drawn ahead of their English counterparts by a whisker on the key measure of success at GCSE.
According to figures published this week by the Welsh Assembly, this summer, 48 per cent of 15-year-olds in Wales achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE or the vocational equivalent, compared with 47.9 per cent in England. The Welsh figure shows an improvement of two percentage points on last year.
English pupils retaliated with an A-level points score that was 0.1 per cent higher than the 17.0 achieved by Welsh pupils (between two Cs and a D and three Cs).
But the Welsh figure still represents an all-time high and a significant increase on 16 points, which was where the figure had been stuck for the past three years.
Congratulating Welsh schools on their success, Education Secretary Rosemary Butler said the results gave "clear indication that we are continuing to eat away at the challenging targets set for 2002." The Government's aim is that 54 per cent of Welsh 15-year-olds should get five A* to C grades at GCSE by that date.
Welsh pupils have also improved their performance on the measure of five GCSE grades at A* to G, with 83 per cent per cent achieving that level against last year's figure of 82 per cent.
But they still have some catching up to match the English figure of 88.5 per cent, let alone hit the 2002 target for Wales of 91 per cent.
The proportion of Welsh pupils getting no GCSE passes at all, although down from 9 to 8 per cent, is still higher than the six per cent in England.
On one key target unique to Wales - that by 2002 half of Welsh pupils should achieve at least a C in maths, science and either Welsh or English - schools still have Mount Snowdon to climb. This year's figure of 36 per cent is an improvement on last year's 34 but still falls a long way short of the summit.
Once again, only two schools - both independent - achieved the feat of getting all their 15-year-olds over the five A* to C grade hurdle: Christ College in Brecon and Monmouth school.
The highest scoring state schools were St Brigid's, a small, formerly grant-maintained comprehensive in Denbighshire with 91 per cent, followed by Cowbridge, a large comprehensive in the Vale of Glamorgan where 81 per cent of pupils reached that level.
The school with the lowest share of pupils getting five good GCSE grades was Glan Ely high school in Cardiff, with only 9 per cent - an improvement on last year's 6 per cent.
The most improved school, based on comparing three-year rolling averages for 1996-98 with 1997-99, is John Summers high school in Flintshire, up by more than a fifth from 18 to 23 per cent of pupils getting five GCSEs at A* to C.
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