Poor Welsh children 'lagging behind' rest of UK

Their first "state of the nation" report made my jaw drop, with its analysis of school performance by children from similar backgrounds across the UK,

This year's report by the social mobility and child poverty commission is equally thought-provoking, although it does have the odd silver lining to an otherwise depressing cloud of data for Welsh government ministers.

The commission, chaired by former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn, again warns that poor pupils in Wales "lag behind" those elsewhere in the UK and that nearly half of three-year-olds in deprived areas are failing to make the expected progress.

Commission members, who include Catriona Williams of Children in Wales, say they're "especially concerned" that a smaller proportion of Welsh children who receive free school meals achieve five good GCSEs (26%) compared to children from similar backgrounds in England (38%).

The commission, chaired by Alan Milburn, also reports that there has been "little progress in improving outcomes for three-year-olds in deprived areas, with only 55% meeting development norms at this age, unchanged from the previous year and short of the target to increase the proportion to 60% by 2016".

In their annual report, the commission say: "Progress is being hampered by a lack of measurement of outcomes, especially in Scotland and Wales: neither parents nor childcare providers are clear on whether children are well-prepared to start primary school or not."

The commission members do say the Welsh government's "Flying Start" programme "continues to make an impact on families in the most deprived areas of Wales".

Their report contrasts different approaches across the UK to child development and education. It says: "The latest figures show a small increase in immunisation rates and a slight improvement in the percentage of children in deprived areas meeting or exceeding developmental norms (as assessed by health visitors) at age two.

"There has, however, been little progress in improving outcomes for three-year-olds in deprived areas, with only 55% meeting development norms at this age, unchanged from the previous year and short of the target to increase the proportion to 60% by 2016.

"In other words nearly half of three-year-olds in Wales in the poorest areas are failing to achieve the expected level of development for their age."

The report makes several recommendations for the devolved administrations:

"The Scottish and Welsh governments should introduce a measure to assess the 'school readiness' of their children at age five;

"The Welsh government should improve the quality of evidence on the impact of policies by designing and implementing programmes in a way that enables more rigorous impact evaluation to be built in from the outset:

"The Welsh government should increase the focus of numeracy and literacy within childcare provision as it provides fundamental skills for children's future learning;

"The Scottish and Welsh governments should improve the data available and its quality to allow the performance in the life chances of children in the foundation years to be assessed."

Discuss.