Wales' education watchdog has warned that some of our most vulnerable pupils are being let down due to huge inconsistencies in provision outside of mainstream schools.
In its annual report, Estyn said that, while special schools are very successful, too many pupil referral units are 'failing' the children who attend them.
The Education Minister Huw Lewis today pledged to act urgently to address the problems.
Tom Sheldrick reports:
Welsh teaching unions say Estyn's annual report shows "steady but slow progress", as schools step up to the challenge set by Welsh Government policies. They acknowledge though that there is still work to do.
The overall message is that we are making steady but slow progress. Again and again the report points out that numeracy remains the weak point in many of our schools and colleges. We now need to bring the same focus to numeracy as we did to literacy, which has shown much greater improvement.
Ann Keane's final report shows some grounds for optimism, as schools and colleges respond to the challenge laid down by Welsh ministers. Outcomes in the secondary sector have improved - albeit from a low base - and the Foundation Phase is improving outcomes in most schools for our youngest learners when it is implemented as intended. Primary school standards appear to have declined slightly, though this seems to result from ‘raising the bar’ in mathematics rather than an actual decline in standards overall.
The performance of our secondary schools continues to improve. It reflects the improvement in the quality and depth of the support through the regional consortia. This is making a positive difference. Of course, Estyn makes recommendations that need to be taken seriously. Secondary school leaders will read the report with care and reflect on the recommendations.
The Welsh Government has welcomed Estyn's annual report as recognition of a "new momentum for improvement" in the education system here.
It points to last year's GCSE results, when the gap with England narrowed, to proof of progress, but says there is no complacency over moving forward further.
We particularly welcome Estyn’s recognition of the new momentum for improvement that exists within the Welsh education system. We must now work together to build on that momentum and focus on key issues such as leadership which will ensure the improvements we want to see.
Building an excellent education system is an ambition shared by everyone in the sector. Last year’s GCSE results show we are starting to see real and tangible progress but we are in no way complacent and recognise that we must continue to work hard and focus on ensuring sustained improvement throughout the sector.
We will now consider the report in detail and respond formally in Plenary at the end of February.
Welsh education watchdog Estyn says progress is being made in the education system here, but there are still significant challenges.Read the full story ›
Education Minister Huw Lewis has demanded that schools here show greater urgency to improve standards of numeracy, in line with Welsh Government agenda.
The Welsh Government introduced the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework in 2012, which is designed to get both key areas being taught in other subjects, across the curriculum.
Annual numeracy tests for pupils aged 7 to 14 began in May 2013.
Estyn praised the initiatives, for raising expectations, and says time spent training has increased.
However, the education watchdog says numeracy is still not seen as a priority in a minority of schools - and only half have developed appropriate plans for improving pupils’ numeracy skills across the curriculum.
Huw Lewis said: "we do need to make sure every school pays much more than lip service to these initiatives."
The Education Minister has announced a new national conference for heads of maths at Welsh schools, on 28 January next year, to share best practice and hear from international experts.
- The majority of pupils in the survey have an appropriate understanding of times-tables, the four rules of number, place value and fractions
- However, pupils’ numerical reasoning skills are not strong enough
- Too many pupils lack confidence with division and percentages, impeding their ability to interpret results and solve problems
- Only around half of schools have developed suitable provision for numeracy, although this is an increase on previously
- Numeracy is still not a high priority in a minority of the schools inspected
- Teachers often lack sufficient mathematical subject knowledge to plan and deliver effective lessons
- In a majority of schools visited, teachers are uncertain of what the term ‘numerical reasoning’ means and how it translates into classroom activities
- In around half of schools planning is still too superficial and does not raise standards
- The quality of marking numeracy work is not good enough - and the monitoring of numeracy skills remains underdeveloped
Pupils' numeracy skills are still weak in more than half of primary and secondary schools in Wales inspected by Estyn in the last year.
The education watchdog has released the second in a series of three reports on key mathematics skills among 7 to 14-year-old children, and the quality of their teaching.
Estyn has found some pupils struggling with skills like division and percentages - as only around half of schools have suitable provision for numeracy.
The Welsh Government has made it a priority in recent years - with annual testing and the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework designed to get key maths skills into other lessons across the curriculum.
It is pleasing to note the progress made by around half of the schools we inspected. However, it is important to emphasise that there is still a long way to go before schools make a full and consistent impact on improving the standards of pupils' numeracy skills.
There are still too many pupils who lack confidence in key aspects of mathematics, such as division and working with percentages.
Staff need more support to widen their knowledge and understanding of strategies to help pupils to use numeracy across the curriculum.
The Welsh Government has described Estyn's report into school attendance as "encouraging."
It says it has targeted attendance with increased investment, and including attendance within the banding system for rating secondary schools gives parents "a clear picture of how schools are performing."
Estyn's report makes encouraging reading.
In the last two years the Welsh Government has invested £800,000 to support local authorities and schools in securing long-term improvements in school attendance. The inclusion of attendance data in the All Wales Core Data Sets for schools and local authorities is a key source of information for schools to use in self-evaluation and improvement processes.
In addition, we have introduced school banding, helping to give us and parents a clear picture of how our schools are performing. Attendance forms part of the banding process which provides us with a constructive evaluation process to improve school performance.
“All pupils should be able to carry out their daily school life free from bullying. We encourage schools and local authorities to study the report closely, learn from those schools where best practice was observed and consider how they can implement those recommendations relevant to them”.
It says it has issued a series of materials called Respecting Others which give anti-bullying guidance:
"Included in the guidance are five key sections - homophobic bullying; cyberbullying; bullying on the basis of race, culture and religion; sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying; and bullying involving pupils with SEN and disabilities. We are currently in the process of publicising the guidance more widely."
Inspectors say too many pupils suffer from bullying during their school lives.
A report published today by Estyn also says schools have a responsibility to tackle bullying in all forms under the Education Act 2002, but the ways in which schools deal with bullying varies widely.
'Action on bullying', found that even schools with good strategies to address the problem don't have a common understanding of how important it is to focus on groups of pupils with a higher-than-average risk of being bullied.
They include gay, lesbian and transgender pupils, those with a disability and pupils from a minority ethnic background.