Five authorities join forces to drive-up student attainment

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Five education authorities in South Wales have joined forces to bring about a “rapid shift” in performance.

The strategic new approach to share best practice and work together is part of a radical plan to drive up attainment after a council report showed that schools in the Welsh capital were performing below a host of rival cities.

Deficiencies at key stage 4 were particularly acute and overall Cardiff schools performed below expected targets across all measures.

When compared with similar councils – including Bristol, Coventry, Derby, Leicester and Portsmouth – Cardiff came 13th out of 14 on key stage 4 indicators.

But plans hatched by Cardiff and its neighbouring education authorities aim to redress the balance.

Schools in Cardiff, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf, and the Vale of Glamorgan will share best practice and help each other to improve.

Experienced educationalist Professor Mel Ainscow has been drafted in to advise the consortium, having worked with the UK government on major school improvement projects in England.

Leaders from Cardiff’s primary, secondary and special school sectors believe a new strategic approach to school improvement is the right way forward.

They told Cardiff council’s education chiefs at a meeting this month that working in partnership with schools across South Wales would help bring about the “rapid shift” in performance required.

Prof Ainscow is credited with helping to reduce the impact of poverty on attainment and Cardiff’s education chiefs are hoping he can replicate his work in Manchester in South Wales.

Cardiff’s cabinet member for education Julia Magill said the council had targeted a five per cent improvement every year for the next three years in the proportion of young people obtaining five or more A* to C grades at GCSE (including maths and English or Welsh).

Overall, 49.9 per cent of pupils in Cardiff hit the mark last summer, which is 2.8 per cent below the Wales average and 8.8 per cent below the city’s 2013 target.

When questioned why Cardiff continued to perform so badly compared to other local authorities, cllr Magill said schools in Cardiff had suffered from being “too inward-looking” and many did not know “what good looks like”.

She added: “Over the last year or so we’ve been concentrating on putting the building blocks and structural changes in place.

“Nobody is saying this (the report) is satisfactory – I don’t think it’s satisfactory. But there is lead time before changes start coming through.”

In a surprise admission, Cardiff’s director of education Nick Batchelar suggested that schools watchdog Estyn had looked too favourably on the city’s performance.

Mr Batchelar said the inspectorate, which deemed Cardiff’s education service “adequate” in 2011, had “compounded rather than assisted” the tackling of certain problems.

He added: “There has not been sufficient realism of where things are now and where they ought to be. This is a turning point.”


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