Welsh government needs to tackle how poverty affects education, report says
More needs to be done by ministers to tackle the effects of poverty on low school achievement, a report says.
Inspection body Estyn also says schools do not make good use of money allocated to help poorer pupils.
It says the emphasis is on literacy and numeracy but not on tackling the link between poverty and low achievement.
The Welsh government says it is "absolutely committed" to breaking the link between deprivation and educational attainment.
In a report out on Tuesday, Estyn - the inspectorate of education and training in Wales - says pupils from poorer backgrounds have difficulties not faced by others.
"Learners from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to have parents who are less likely to be involved in their education and more likely to have a negative perception of education.
"Many schools also find that parents do not always want to engage with services and agencies that could help them so they work hard to build a trusting relationship with parents."
Pupils deprivation grant
In a recent speech, Education Minister, Huw Lewis said he wanted more focus on the challenge of pupils from poorer backgrounds.
But Estyn says schools have not yet taken that on board.
"Although many schools have recently become more focused on the importance of improving the standards and wellbeing of disadvantaged pupils, tackling poverty is still not a high enough priority for all schools.
"For example, only a minority of schools had specific plans for in-service training on reducing the impact of poverty on attainment in 2012-2013."
Jassa Scott, Estyn's assistant director told BBC Wales: "You can't tackle literacy and numeracy without tackling poverty.
"Unless you address those various factors that perhaps mean those pupils can't learn as well as they could, then they won't be able to develop their literacy skills and numeracy skills.
"You have to look at the whole package."
In 2012, the Welsh government introduced the £32.4m Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG) to support action to reduce the impact of poverty on educational attainment.
Each school receives an allocation according to the number of students aged 5-15 who are eligible for free school meals.
This equates to an additional £450 per eligible student.
Schools have flexibility on how to spend the money but are encouraged to focus on literacy and numeracy.
But schools inspectors found that schools were not using the money for the purpose for which it was intended.
"Schools, generally, don't use those grants well enough to target particularly those disadvantaged pupils, those who are disadvantaged by poverty," Ms Scott added.
"They look generally to improve performance for lower performing, or lower ability pupils rather than specifically tackling those that are actually disadvantaged by poverty which is the main aim of the grant."
Responding to the report, a Welsh government spokesperson said "ability and application, not family income, should be what determine educational success".
"We are absolutely committed to breaking the link between deprivation and educational attainment and it is disappointing that too many schools still don't understand that this is an equality issue."
The spokesperson said the PDG was introduced to address this.
"The grant is intended to help poorer children to overcome the additional barriers they face as a result of living in poverty, and to catch up with their peers."
The PDG is being doubled for one year during 2014-2015 to speed up the rate of progress, the spokesperson added.
"We expect schools to make good use of this additional funding to introduce sustainable approaches to reduce the difference in levels of attainment between the poorest children in Wales and their peers.
"We agree with Estyn, however, that schools must work with others to effectively support pupils from deprived backgrounds, and that there needs to be more training for school leaders in this area.
"That is why we are developing a Deprivation Programme which has as two of its key themes, Family and Community Engagement and Workforce Development."