Winning formula against the odds
A STRUGGLING school that was so hard up it had to be given a short-term loan from the local authority is celebrating after receiving a glowing report from Estyn.
Barry comprehensive in the Vale of Glamorgan was said to have among the lowest per-pupil funding in Wales. But inspectors described one in four lessons as "outstanding" after a three-day inspection in February.
In a report written by Ms Glynis Owen, it was awarded four grade 1s and three grade 2s as a result of its "inspired and inspiring" leadership, its "wealth" of activities and "outstanding" pastoral care.
Estyn said the school's commitment to promoting pupils' achievement was "exceptionally generous", despite "well below average" per-pupil funding.
The proportion of lessons graded 1 and 2 (74 per cent) is above the average for all inspections in Wales in 2005-6. Since the last inspection, levels of attendance have risen from 87 per cent to 91 per cent.
Inspectors said: "The extent to which individuals are supported in order that they will achieve success is outstanding. Yet, in the last year the school has been unable to retain adequate reserves and has had to be given a short-term loan by the local authority."
Latest figures show spending per pupil in the Vale of Glamorgan is one of the lowest in Wales at pound;3,260. Only Flintshire and Caerphilly spend less on their pupils. Ceredigion - the highest spender - allocates pound;800 more per pupil than those at Barry comprehensive can expect to receive (Pounds 4,060).
Officials have long argued about whether funding levels affect pupil achievement or whether other factors, such as good management and teaching, come into play.
Headteacher David Swallow said funding had become a "tremendous challenge".
"Schools in the Vale have been traditionally underfunded - less than other schools in Wales and certainly less than England," he said.
"We're pleased the inspectors got a real feeling for the school and picked up on all the things you want to hear as a parent."
The increase in the number of pupils gaining at least five A*-C grades at GCSE (68 per cent last year) has been recognised in the award of "most improved school" in Wales for three years running.
Bryan Jeffreys, director of learning and development for the Vale of Glamorgan, said the authority puts a higher proportion of its funding into education than most authorities in Wales but believes it is disadvantaged by the Assembly government's funding formula.
"Despite joint representation from the council and schools, the issue remains unaddressed," he said. "The council continues to work with all schools to manage budget difficulties. We will continue to make representation through the local budget forum for a fairer deal for Vale pupils."