Education poverty gap 'challenge' warn AMs

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Image caption There are worries the pace of change in improving performance is not enough

There are "considerable challenges" to close the education attainment gap for children from poorer backgrounds and ministers needs to do more.

That is the warning from a committee of AMs, which has made 12 recommendations for change.

The GCSE performance of pupils from low income families is improving but special help is needed.

The Welsh government said it was grateful for the report and would respond to the recommendations.

A report by the Assembly's Children, Young People and Education Committee wants the government to:

  • Address reasons why the Foundation Phase - the curriculum for children between three and seven-years old - has "not had an effect on the attainment levels of children from low-income families".
  • Review whether a designated pupil deprivation grant is being used properly to help pupils from poorer backgrounds.
  • Tackle "hidden costs" faced by low income families such as buying ingredients for cookery lessons
  • Make sure all school trips have an educational purpose so no child is prevented from taking part because of cost
  • Look into the progress of initiatives to promote parental engagement. The committee heard good practice is "very inconsistent" across Wales and in some cases "non-existent".
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Image caption This shows the performance gap for 14-16-olds taking two core GCSEs

The report looks at how pupils receiving free school meals are doing at school, including at GCSE, which has been earmarked for improvement.

Assembly members took evidence from charities and a number of primary and secondary schools around Wales.

Education Minister Huw Lewis has said that pupils from poorer backgrounds are "on track" to meet an improvement target set for 2017 in which 37% will be expected to get good GCSEs in English or Welsh and maths.

He said there are early signs of the gap being closed.

But the AMs say that policies specifically-targeting those pupils were needed with Wales still lagging behind children from poorer backgrounds in England.

Only 26% of teenagers who receive free school meals in Wales get five or more good GCSEs, compared to 38% of the equivalent group in England.

Ann Jones AM, committee chair, said: "The Welsh government faces considerable challenges in closing the attainment gap for children from low-income families.

"Whilst some progress has been made across the key stages in recent years, the scale of the change needed to meet this challenge should not be underestimated."

The Welsh Government said breaking the link between deprivation and attainment was one of its key priorities.

"It is encouraging that the committee noted progress in closing the attainment gap over recent years, during its inquiry," said a spokesperson.

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