Education minister Huw Lewis has revealed his officials are in talks with inspectorate Estyn about using inspections to monitor how well poverty is being tackled.
Since his appointment in June, Mr Lewis has said that breaking the link between poverty and low attainment is his department’s number one priority.
He said the Welsh government is also considering if more needs to be done to make clear to schools that the controversial “banding” system is specifically geared to reflect how much help they give to pupils from less affluent backgrounds.
Speaking at a conference organised by Save the Children, Mr Lewis said “the statistics make for depressing reading”, adding “we cannot and will not accept poverty and inequality for a fifth of our children”.
He said Wales’s education system has an important role in helping the nation’s poorest pupils – but schools could not work alone and required the support of parents.
“What parents do is more important than who parents are or what their economic circumstances happen to be,” he said.
“It’s very hard to think of a more important job of work that faces us ... than tackling the theft of life chances from around a third of our fellow citizens.
“The forces that drive this truly shameful state of affairs are strong, they are deep-seated and they are insidious.”
Mr Lewis said the Welsh government was in the process of developing a “national deprivation programme” based on four key themes: family and community engagement, early years, workforce development, and realising aspirations.
On a practical level, the Pupil Deprivation Grant is being extended so that an additional £918 will be made available for poorer pupils.
At the same event, Professor David Egan, director of Wales’s new Centre for Equity in Education, warned that reducing the impact of poverty on attainment was crucial to improving school standards.
He told delegates: “I think that some of our schools get it – they get what we’re talking about. But there are a heck of a lot who don’t get it. We’re not going to achieve unless we get more schools to engage in this agenda.”
The warning comes as new Welsh government figures show that overall 11 per cent of people in Wales have no qualifications, which is higher than in both England and Scotland where the figures stand at nine and 10 per cent respectively.