Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills
Verified statistics published today show that Welsh pupils achieved their best ever GCSE results in the 2014/15 academic year.
In addition to this, I know that AMs will be particularly interested in the progress of Schools Challenge Cymru, given the level of investment that we have made. As such, I am pleased to provide you with the table below, which sets out the 2014 and 2015 GCSE performance, specifically in relation to attainment of the Level 2 inclusive, of the Pathways to Success schools that are taking forward our Challenge programme. These 40 schools have, historically, struggled to keep pace with schools in less challenging circumstances and, while GCSE results are not the only measure of improvement or success, I am pleased to confirm that more than two thirds of them have recorded improvements since embarking on the first year of their improvement journey with the programme.
It was previously reported, and I can now confirm, that, in addition to the majority of the 40 schools recording improvements on last year’s results, some did so in the double figures, while others recorded their best ever results. Given that many of these schools had previously experienced considerable difficulties in bringing about improvements in their performance, it is extremely encouraging to see the progress that has been made after only one year. To put this into a wider context, our Champion Professor Mel Ainscow has commented that neither the much acclaimed London nor Greater Manchester Challenges, on which Schools Challenge Cymru based its learning, made the same level of progress after the same amount of time.
Across the programme, Pathways to Success schools improved by an average of 3 percentage points, something made more remarkable when compared with the progress of schools in the wider system, which registered an average 2.5 percentage point rise.
While many of these schools have made significant progress, I acknowledge that there is still much to be done. The focus of year one of Schools Challenge Cymru was on ensuring that all of them had the right foundations in place upon which to build rapid and sustainable improvement for the long-term. However, each of the schools is at a different stage of its development and therefore each has benefitted from a highly tailored approach. For some schools, this has involved significant and structural changes to address the deep-rooted issues that had led to their challenging circumstances, sometimes over a sustained period of time. Unsurprisingly, progress in these schools in relation to examination results at the end of the first year has been limited. However, given the structural changes that have now been instigated, it is anticipated that further improvements will be seen during the second year of the programme.
As we move into year two, I am confident that the Challenge is supporting all of these schools to improve, not just during the life of the programme, but in the longer term as well. During the second year we will continue the relentless focus on improving the quality of leadership, teaching and learning in each of the Pathways to Success schools. At the same time we are ensuring that the programme’s focus increasingly encompasses effective engagement with the cluster primaries, and delivers ongoing support for pupils from less advantaged backgrounds, to ensure the sustainable improvement of outcomes for all learners. In addition, beyond the 40 schools, Schools Challenge Cymru has supported the wider system to improve, investing significantly to this end, and will continue to do so during the second year.
The important thing now is that we build on this excellent progress and continue to work constructively with all participating schools to drive up standards and secure the fortunes of learners across Wales.