Tots and teens in Welsh-language schools are outperforming their English-speaking peers in reading and writing, teacher assessment results reveal.
Assembly government figures based on classroom observations show 90 per cent of seven-year-olds and three-quarters of 14-year-olds appraised in Welsh reached an acceptable standard of literacy this year. Just 83 per cent and 71 per cent of English speakers achieved the same at key stages 1 and 3.
Welsh-language pupils of all ages had higher oracy skills than their peers while the quality of writing in English showed a marked drop compared with last year.
But the trend was reversed at KS2 as 11-year-olds assessed in English outperformed Welsh speakers. The figures show overall improvement in most subjects but raise fresh questions about the effectiveness of strategies to engage pupils - particularly boys - in literacy.
The gender gap has decreased slightly at KS1 and 3 but has grown at KS2 and remains marked in some areas of Wales.
In Blaenau Gwent, one of the most deprived authorities, nearly two-thirds of boys failed to reach the standard in reading, writing and arithmetic by the age of 14, compared with 43 per cent of girls. By contrast, all Welsh- speaking 11-year-old boys in Newport achieved the standard in literacy compared with 96.8 per cent of girls.
Education minister Jane Hutt welcomed the results. "The consistently high performance of our seven-year-olds is now at its highest level since 1999 - we are starting to reap the rewards of our child-centred policies," she said. "Teachers are gaining confidence in their assessment abilities and in the use of assessment for learning."
KS1 assessment does not include children being taught under the foundation phase and will be replaced by new criteria in 2011.
In the non-core subjects at KS3, since 2008 there has been a rise in the proportion of pupils achieving level 5 - the expected level - or above in all subjects apart from geography, which stayed the same, and PE, which fell slightly.
The proportion of pupils achieving level 5 or above varied from 77.5 per cent in information technology to 56 per cent in Welsh as a second language.
Girls outperformed boys in all subjects apart from PE, in which boys did better.