28 April 2015
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Minister for Education and Skills will provide an update on the Schools Challenge Cymru programme during plenary today.
One of the Welsh Government’s key priorities is to tackle the impact of deprivation on the educational attainment of pupils and its Schools Challenge Cymru programme aims to do this by improving the performance of 40 of Wales’ underperforming secondary schools. First announced in February 2014, the programme was launched in schools from September 2014. The participating ‘Pathways to Success’ schools are listed on the Schools Challenge Cymru Welsh Government webpage.
What’s the basis for this approach?
The Schools Challenge Cymru model is based on ways of working previously used elsewhere in the UK: namely the London Challenge 2003-08; and the City Challenge 2008-2011, which incorporated London, Greater Manchester and the Black Country. Further information about what happened as a result of these programmes can be found in their evaluation report.
Why these 40 schools?
There has been particular interest in how the 40 ‘Pathways to Success’ schools taking part in the School Challenge Cymru programme were chosen. A Welsh Government press release of May 2014 set out that:
‘Schools have been chosen using a range of performance data and information that highlights the challenges they face in terms of their circumstances and stage of development. They have been also been chosen as it is believed they have the potential to deliver swift and positive improvements for learners.’
Following questioning from Assembly Members, the Minister provided further detail on how the schools were chosen, for example in the following responses to written Assembly questions (WAQ66974 to WAQ66973) to Angela Burns AM, Shadow Minister for Education.
Where did the money come from?
School Challenge Cymru was allocated £20 million funding per year for three years. This is made up of a £12.1 million Barnett consequential from the Autumn Statement 2013 with the remaining £7.9 million being sourced from existing Welsh Government Education and Skills budgets.
It is intended that the £20 million funding allocated for the scheme be allocated according to the development and improvement needs of each Pathways to Success school. A Written Ministerial Statement issued in November 2014 outlined:
‘As Schools Challenge Cymru Advisers work with their schools additional needs will inevitably emerge or be identified which will require further action. To manage this, and to ensure that the Challenge maintains pace, the allocation of funding must be dynamic. Given this fluidity, final funding allocations for year 1 of the programme for each of the Pathways to Success Schools will be published at the end of the summer term in 2015.
In addition to the funding being made available to schools directly for improvement activity, each education consortium has been allocated Schools Challenge Cymru funding to build capacity at a regional level and to drive collaboration.’
What is the ‘pupil offer’?
In December 2015 the Minister issued a written statement which set out the role of the ‘pupil offer’ would play for pupils within Schools Challenge Cymru schools, saying:
‘We must inspire them to succeed by providing experiences that open their eyes to the opportunities that exist beyond the school gates, their homes and their local communities. This raising of pupils’ personal expectations, aspirations and ambitions is an important aspect of the Challenge.’
The Minister asked participating schools to begin piloting approaches to widen pupils’ horizons and to create opportunities for pupils to experience meaningful activities that they might not otherwise be able to access. At the same time, he asked partner organisations to get involved by ‘sharing their skills, knowledge, resources and expertise to secure improved outcomes for our children and young people’.
How is Schools Challenge Cymru progressing?
Assembly Members will be interested to hear about what progress has been made and whether the ‘pupil offer’ is moving forward as the Minister envisaged. Of interest may also be whether the Welsh Government envisages any challenges in attributing improvements in attainment to the School Challenge Cymru programme itself, given the range of interventions it has put in place to narrow the gap in performance.
Of particular interest may be the role that regional education consortia are taking in respect of driving the programme’s ambitions forward and the how they will be using the specific Schools Challenge Cymru funding allocated to them. Members have already questioned whether the additional £7.9 million sourced from the existing Education and Skills budget will have an impact on the Welsh Government’s other education programmes and priorities.
Further information about the Welsh Government’s approach to the wider agenda of tackling the link between education and poverty can be found in their Rewriting the Future document. On 20 May 2015, the Assembly is due to debate the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s recently published report into educational outcomes for children from low income households.