15 May 2015
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
On Wednesday 20 May, the Assembly will debate the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report on its inquiry into educational outcomes for children from low income households. This issue has attracted much interest and scrutiny, both in this Assembly and prior to that. We also know that tackling the impact of deprivation on educational attainment is one of the Welsh Government’s key priorities.
In our recent blog on academic achievement and entitlement to free school meals we pointed to the latest statistics, published in January 2015, which showed that in the Foundation Phase the gap has narrowed between the attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) and those who are not. In contrast the statistics showed that the gap at key stage 4 has widened for the first time since 2010. Our blog also noted that whilst the performance of FSM pupils at key stage 4 had improved by 4.4 percentage points since the target was set in 2011/12, performance needs to increase by a further 9.2 percentage points over the next three years to meet the Welsh Government’s target.
The Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report makes 12 recommendations about what more the Welsh Government should be doing to improve how well pupils entitled to free school meals are doing in school. Amongst its recommendations are that:
- The Minister should review and clarify the role of the Foundation Phase to ensure that it can contribute to improved outcomes for children from low-income families; [the Foundation Phase itself will be the subject of an Assembly debate on Tuesday 19 May, see our blog on this issue]
- The Welsh Government should ensure that the Pupil Deprivation Grant is delivering both the intended outcomes for pupils and value for money.
- The Minister should strengthen and clarify guidance for schools on charging for activities relating to education.
Assembly Members will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to all the recommendations. We already know tackling the impact of deprivation on educational attainment is one of the Welsh Government’s key priorities. The question is whether their policies will deliver the progress they want for this group of pupils. Our recent blog on the Welsh Government’s Schools Challenge Cymru programme sets out one of the approaches it has chosen to achieve this: by aiming to improve the performance of 40 of Wales’ underperforming secondary schools.