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  1. ITV Report

Estyn: Vulnerable children 'failed' by pupil referral units

Standards have improved in Welsh secondary schools - but declined in primary schools. Photo: PA

The Welsh education system is making progress - but significant challenges remain, according to the watchdog Estyn.

Chief Inspector Ann Keane said: "Although Wales still lags behind other nations, there is a new momentum for improvement. Initiatives introduced in schools and other providers, supported by Welsh Government, are having a positive impact."

The watchdog's annual report focused on pupils at risk of underachievement, and warned of serious inconsistencies in provision for our most vulnerable pupils, with special schools much more effective than pupil referral units.

There are 35 PRUs in Wales, catering for around 600 pupils, who have been excluded, or are at risk of exclusion, from mainstream schools. Many have additional learning needs, or specific emotional, health or other needs.

Estyn's report said: "the provision in too many PRUs fails the vulnerable learners who attend them."

It highlights an under-focus on key skills like literacy and numeracy, low expectations for pupils, and substandard teaching.

In many cases, "PRUs are let down by their local authorities. There is still an urgent need for stronger leadership from local authorities."

Estyn said that weak provision in pupil referral units was still a cause for concern. Credit: PA

Other key findings:

  • Standards in primary schools declined this year - with around two-thirds inspected requiring some level of follow-up due to shortcomings, mainly due to pupils' limited progress in numeracy
  • Secondary schools are still weaker than primaries overall, but standards improved this year
  • Literacy and numeracy are improving - but at a "relatively modest pace"
  • Plans to develop pupils' numeracy skills across the curriculum are usually weaker than those to develop literacy

The impact of flagship policies such as the Literacy and Numeracy Framework, designed to make sure those key skills are part of all subjects, and the Foundation Phase for early years was praised for having a positive impact, although some schools have not implemented them as fully.

A number of important indicators suggest that the efforts of the education sector are having a positive impact on learners. However, significant challenges remain.

It is disappointing that standards in primary schools have declined. The proportion of good or excellent schools has fallen from seven in ten last year, to just over six in ten this year.

Secondary schools have improved, although from a relatively weak position last year. In the academic year 2013-2014, no secondary schools required special measures, compared with six in the previous year.

The quality of leadership remains a challenge. Over the last five years, there have been encouraging signs that leaders and managers are beginning to take a broader view of their roles and responsibilities.

Although Wales still lags behind other nations, there is a new momentum for improvement and this must continue if young people are to develop as fully as they can and shape our country’s future.

– Ann Keane, Estyn Chief Inspector