Educational attainment – Welsh Government assessment
While there have been improvements in some areas of educational attainment in Wales, and attainment gaps at early years appear to be closing, performance has worsened in certain areas and evidence of inequalities for different ethnic groups and children with additional learning needs persists. No improvement has been made in the attainment gap between socio-economically disadvantaged and other children, despite additional government funding. While it is too early to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there are concerns that existing attainment inequalities are likely to widen.
- The proportion of A Level students in Wales achieving A* to A has increased each year from 23% in 2016 to well over 40% of pupils in 2020, although this figure was revised and is based on teacher assessments.
- The percentage of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A*-C (including Welsh/English and Maths) decreased between 2017–18 and 2018–19, while the percentage achieving A*–A grades remained stable.
- In 2019, boys continue to perform worse than girls, and children with special educational needs (SEN) had significantly lower attainment than children without SEN. There are also disparities across different ethnic groups, with children from any other White background, White and Black Caribbean, Caribbean, and any other Black background achieving lower grades at GCSE level than their peers. Gypsy/Gypsy Roma pupils continue to perform significantly worse than all other ethnic groups.
- Despite improvements reported in the Welsh Government’s update on its National Mission, the attainment gap persists for pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM). A 2019 report by Estyn showed that the significant gap in performance between pupils eligible for FSM and their peers has shown no notable improvement since 2016, with attainment gaps typically widening as pupils become older. However, it is difficult to make comparisons due to changes in the measurement used over the last decade.
- In April 2019, Estyn reported on educational provision for secondary school-aged Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils, noting progress against previous recommendations and making recommendations on data collection, funding and guidelines on prosecutions for failure to attend school. It raised concerns that schools do not use attainment data to inform improvement for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. There is little information about progress in implementing the Welsh Government’s Enabling Gypsies, Roma and Travellers plan.
- While it is too early to assess the impact of the pandemic on attainment, there are concerns that school closures may widen existing inequalities. The move to online learning has put certain children at a disadvantage, including those deemed to be digitally excluded and disabled children who are unable to use inaccessible online resources. Concerns have also been raised, including around unconscious bias, about the replacement of exams with teacher-assessed grades.
- While gross budgeted expenditure for schools increased by 2.8% between 2015–16 and 2018–19, this represents a decrease in real terms. A 2020 independent report found positive effects of school spending, with larger impact for disadvantaged pupils.
- A 2018 Senedd inquiry into the Welsh Government’s use of additional funding for the most deprived children found that some schools were using the Pupil Development Grant to make up for what they saw as insufficient core funding.
- The international 2018 PISA assessment showed that education performance in Wales had not changed significantly since 2015, and that it still scored the lowest of the four UK nations.
Read more about the UK and Welsh Governments’ actions on educational attainment.