Schools in Wales at foot of banding system offered £10,000

Leighton Andrews
Image caption Education Minister Leighton Andrews says banding schools has proved valuable

The lowest-ranked secondary schools in Wales have been promised more funding to improve standards.

The Welsh government has set aside £10,000 for every school in the bottom two bands of a performance-grading system.

In return they must submit action plans with targets on improvement, says Education Minister Leighton Andrews.

But opposition parties in the Welsh assembly say the money is "inadequate" and a "drop in the ocean".

Secondary schools were placed into one of five bands last year based on GCSE exam performance and pupil attendance.

The money has been earmarked for the 75 schools in bands four and five, which are subject to action plans setting out how they intend to improve.

The Welsh government denies that banding is a return to league tables, which were scrapped in 2001.

In a speech in Cardiff, Mr Andrews said banding had already proved valuable by showing which schools needed extra support.

He also announced the creation of a panel of teachers and head teachers to advise him.

The practitioners panel will meet every two months, providing advice to the minister and his department on best practice.

Mr Andrews said: "The best teachers I see in our schools are the ones eager to learn and share their experiences.

"I want to see teachers sharing their ideas and the new panel which I've announced today will be at the heart of delivering this."

The introduction of banding for primary schools has been delayed until 2014.

'Funding gap'

Tory education spokesperson Angela Burns said: "While any additional funding for schools is welcome, £10,000 is a drop in the ocean and will do little to improve the £604 per pupil shortfall in Welsh schools because of Labour's consistent underfunding."

Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas, who called for a "complete rethink of banding," said £10,000 per school was "worryingly inadequate".

"I am at a loss as to what he expects the schools to be able to achieve with this money," he said.

Teaching unions welcomed the tone of Mr Andrews's speech.

NUT Cymru policy office Owen Hathway pointed to a £604 "funding gap" between schools in Wales and England.

"This additional money will not address that problem in its entirety, and more does need to be done, but it is a positive first step that will make a difference to the schools which receive it," he said.

The NAHT union said the debate about the validity of banding would continue "but at least releasing additional funds gets us part of the way back to what 'banding' should be about: supporting, as well as challenging schools to improve".

Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, said: "We have previously called for new and extra support for schools and this will be welcomed by the profession."

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