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We need a progress report on poverty

A national budget for children is a must if we hope to meet the 2020 target

Poverty is no excuse for failure - especially in the classroom. This is the official line sweeping the UK with a vengeance. From Dr Bill Maxwell, chief inspector of schools for Wales, to Ed Balls, England's Schools Secretary, the message is that being born to poor parents is not a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that good schools and teachers are the solution.

There is a growing intolerance towards schools and teachers that fail to get good results from their most disadvantaged pupils, and with good reason. Many heads and teachers would agree that this is unacceptable.

Take Roz Harrison, head of Rhosymedre Community Primary School near Wrexham (page 5). Despite leading a school located in one of the most deprived areas of Wales, with 50 per cent entitlement to free school meals, achievement levels are up year-on-year.

Mrs Harrison might have given up her life to this cause, going far beyond her contractual obligations. Nonetheless, this is a result.

What there can be no excuse for is the scandalous lack of information about how much has been spent on pupils and, more importantly, the impact of this investment. Without this information, it is impossible to hold the Assembly government to account and Wales will remain in the dark.

It took Save the Children, a charity with few resources, to reveal just how little is known. Its representatives told a children and young people's committee inquiry this week that they were able to track the amount spent on disadvantaged children in England, and its impact, but that this was impossible here.

The charity is in no doubt that a lack of information stands in the way of progress - particularly in Wales. Not having this information is like having an illness without a diagnosis.

The impact and the amount of public money spent on children in Wales - whether in schools or on social services - have been hidden for far too long.

If the expectation is to halve child poverty by 2010 and eliminate it by 2020, we must establish what a decade's worth of investment to society's most deprived has achieved.

Save the Children recommends a common-sense solution: the introduction of a national budget for children. It sounds like sense.

As recession deepens, poverty will no doubt rise. Teachers will find themselves not only trying to raise the aspirations of children born to poor families, but also those forced into poverty as parents lose their jobs and perhaps even their homes.

But schools can't do it alone. Attacking poverty needs the right investment and a plan. There is real hope that as a result of the committee's inquiry, positive steps will be taken to attack the crippling poverty that has scarred so many children's lives in Wales. Otherwise, the nation could end up failing its neediest.


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