BBC education reporter Ciaran Jenkins back in class

By Ciaran Jenkins
BBC Wales education correspondent

image captionLearning lessons: Ciaran Jenkins at Glyn Derw High School in Cardiff

The alarm buzzes at 6.30am. I'm going back to school today, and after a quick bowl of cereal, I'm off.

There was a time when I thought I'd never escape this routine.

As I walk into Glyn Derw High School in the Ely area of Cardiff I remember what it was like to make the same journey each day towards time-worn buildings.

Like many schools in Wales, Glyn Derw has seen better days. It was the same at my old school, where the buildings creaked in the wind and leaked in the rain.

Then, as now, there wasn't the money for state-of-the-art facilities. But what Glyn Derw lacks in infrastructure it makes up for in spirit.

Assembly is accompanied by a powerpoint display. The teacher is delivering a motivational talk on companionship, and I feel inspired as I head towards the first lesson.

I'm here to see for myself the challenges facing our school system.

In December, international assessments in maths, science and reading showed 15-year-olds in Wales lagging behind the rest of the UK and much of the rest of the world. Then a landmark report from the school inspectorate Estyn revealed that one in three were not good enough; 40% of children entering secondary school aren't even reading and writing properly.

It's a chemistry lesson, and Jenny Davies is in charge. Miss Davies is something of a rarity - a science teacher with a science degree. She considered a career in the labs but chose teaching and never regretted it.

This is a top set and yet there are still interruptions from some of the lads. But Jenny bats it off.

image captionCouncils in Wales spend an average £604 less on each pupil compared to England

Her face glows as she tells me how much she enjoys her job; how satisfying it is to make a difference in this area where deprivation levels are among the worst in the UK.

She also tells me how frustrating it is to feel under the cosh, to be blamed for a system's failings.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews accused teachers of "complacency in the classroom" after those disastrous international test results.

Timely assistance

After break I catch up with Glyn Derw's head teacher, Paul Davies, who gives an impassioned defence of his staff.

Were it not for a funding gap which means £604 per pupil less on average is received by schools in Wales, he insists he would employ even more teachers.

GCSE results here have been improving, but they remain below the national average and Paul thinks one-to-one attention for pupils is the key to turning things around.

After lunch I'm asked to think of something interesting about Henry VIII and write it on the white board.

My mind goes blank and I'm indebted to a new 13-year-old friend for some timely assistance.

If there is failure in these classrooms, most of it today is coming from me.

Ciaran Jenkins reports on his experiences in Week in Week Out on BBC 1 Wales on Tuesday, 15 February, at 2235 GMT.

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