£20m to improve underperforming secondary schools in Wales

By Arwyn Jones
BBC Wales education correspondent

media captionUp to 40 schools will be selected and monitored when the scheme begins in September

A £20m a year plan to boost underperforming secondary schools is being launched.

The Welsh government's Schools Challenge Cymru, aims to improve the quality of teaching and learning by sharing expertise with high-performing schools.

Up to 40 schools will be selected and monitored when the scheme begins in September.

The drive follows similar schemes in London and Manchester.

'Game changer'

Details of criteria for involvement and which schools have been selected will be announced in the coming months.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the funding would make a huge difference to the chosen schools.

"If we're to raise standards and performance in education in Wales across the board we need to boost attainment levels of schools which are underperforming and we know could do better," he said.

"It's going to be a real game changer, providing a generous package of tailored support to help them realise their potential."

Education Minister Huw Lewis said schools should follow the lead of Dyffryn School in Port Talbot which, despite being in a challenging area, sets high standards, performs well and gives pupils a bright future.

"I've called this a challenge for a reason. Today, I'm issuing a challenge to school leaders, senior teachers, consortia, governors and even learners. It's a challenge to improve," he added.

"We know school performance needs to get better and we're taking the actions needed to make this happen. Schools Challenge Cymru will support this; after all, our young people deserve nothing less than the best."

In London, many schools involved in the scheme saw significant improvements in standards and results.

Head teachers were allowed to bring in consultants and experts to tackle problems.

Woodside Secondary School in north London was one of the worst performing in the city.

But since being involved with the London Challenge in 2003 its results have improved dramatically every year.

Head teacher Dame Joan Mcvittee told BBC Wales: "What that whole process did was build capacity within the school.

"Because there's absolutely no point in just shipping in some experts who then walk out the door two to three months later.

"They did bring in consultants and experts who worked alongside my teachers to build up their capacity to really get them to focus on the things that were critical for them to develop their teaching."

Support needed

Owen Hathway from teaching union NUT Cymru welcomed the financial support, but said the project would need to be monitored.

"One thing that does need to be avoided is that the challenge aspect does not overshadow support. We have seen in the delivery of the literacy and numeracy framework that advisors are very much focused on the judgemental side of the work without offering much in terms of assistance for schools.

"However, the principles behind the scheme focusing on professional development, sharing expertise and supporting teachers, do certainly have the potential to secure positive results and the focus."

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the union ATL Cymru, said pupils in the selected schools would have their life chances boosted by the programme.

"As the challenge unfolds we will need to take careful note of the learning and experience of all the schools involved to see how we can share the best that the Welsh system has to offer," he added.

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