Junior standards soar but worries remain over low secondary expectations and peformance of boys. Brian Morgan and Biddy Passmore report.
Standards in Welsh primary schools are rising so fast that some nine-year-old pupils are more literate and numerate than their 15-year-old counterparts, says Susan Lewis, the principality's chief inspector.
Her annual report, published last week, shows that just over 45 per cent of primary lessons now produce good or very good work by pupils, up from around 30 per cent five years ago. Unsatisfactory work, which was found in 20 per cent of classes, is now only found in well under 10 per cent.
Ms Lewis says higher standards, especially at key stage 1, reflect the effort schools are putting into the national literacy drive (the literacy hour is not compulsory in Wales).
However, as in England, standards dip in the early secondary years, especially between the ages of 12 and 14. The weakest teaching is in Year 8 (12-year-olds), where it is unsatisfactory in a tenth of classes.
In about three-fifths of all secondary classes, teachers' expectations of pupils are too low.
The report expresses concern that the wide gap in performance between boys and girls has grown, despite a target to halve it by 2002. In 2000, two thirds of girls but less than 60 per cent of boys reached the expected level at key stage 3 in all core subjects (English or Welsh, maths and science). This means schools stand little chance of meeting another 2002 target: that between 70 and 80 per cent of pupils should reach that level. P> At GCSE, 55 per cent of girls but only 43 per cent of boys got five or more passes at grades A* to C. Only 30 per cent of boys achieved grades A* to C in all core subjects, compared with 40 per cent of girls.
Ms Lewis is also concerned by the wide gap in achievement between the best and worst schools, lack of action to combat racism and the "huge challenge to improve young people's attendance and attitudes to learning". In some secondaries, about a fifth of pupils do not attend school regularly.
The report does not mince words about the state of buildings. "Leaking roofs, peeling paintwork and drab classrooms" create an "unacceptable" environment, from which pupils prefer to escape "to wander in neighbouring streets or meet in local shopping centres". In nearly 10 per cent of schools, conditions are described as "not good enough".
The highest levels of unsatisfactory work were found in information and communications technology: 20 per cent of lessons in primaries, more than 40 per cent in secondaries.
The report covers all stages of learning, from nursery through to further education and teacher training.
In teacher training, the quality of recruits is high but recruitment to secondary training continues to fall well short of targets, especially in maths, science, ICT, design and technology, modern languages and Welsh.
'The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales 1999-2000' is available from Stationery Office bookshops. The Cardiff bookshop telephone number is 02920 395548