'Third of children living in poverty'

15th June 2007 at 01:00
Save the Children chief says social divisions will have dire consequences

ONE IN three children in Wales is living in severe poverty, a leading charity figure has claimed.

Keith Towler, director of Save the Children in Wales, challenged the effectiveness of Assembly government policies to end child poverty in an address at the Welsh Local Government Association's annual conference in Swansea last week.

He said the inability to raise children out of poverty would have dire consequences for education.

His comments came before the findings of a study of more than 15,500 three-year-olds found that more family poverty exists in Wales than anywhere else in the UK.

Academics from London university found 30 per cent of families in Wales were below the poverty line, compared with 25 per cent in England and 21 per cent in Scotland. They conclude that three-year-olds from disadvantaged families could be a year behind in their development, compared with peers with graduate parents on good incomes.

But data on poverty and educational attainment remains confused. Welsh primaries with similar numbers of disadvantaged pupils still get widely varying results at key stage 2, according to government figures released last year.

Denominational and small schools generally did better, suggesting other factors were at play in the poverty-versus-achievement equation. Puncheston primary near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, achieved a 100 per cent core subject indicator, despite nearly 32 per cent of its 69 pupils being entitled to free school meals.

But the figures generally confirm a link between deprivation and achievement, with high FSM entitlement usually correlating with poorer achievement. Steve Marshall, chief executive of the department for education, culture and the Welsh language, said this week that attacking poverty had to be a priority.

Speaking at a school leadership conference held by the NUT Cymru in Cardiff, he said bridging the gap between the educational performances of Welsh local authorities had to happen.

The Assembly government document, Learning Country 2, highlighted concerns over the significant gap between schools serving similar socio-economic areas.

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