'No quick fix' on poorer pupils' gap in Wales - expert

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Image caption The tables are based on provisional results from this year's GCSEs

Politicians should not expect a "quick fix" from policies aimed at improving the performance of poorer pupils, a leading expert has said.

Sir Alasdair Macdonald said schools should work together to benefit all the children in their communities.

He advises the Welsh government on raising attainment.

Latest figures show a 31% gap in GCSE performance between children on free school meals and their peers, although this gap has narrowed slightly.

Sir Alasdair, a former London head teacher, was knighted for services to education after he turned around the performance of a school in the deprived Tower Hamlets area.

Data published last week showed that 35.5% of Welsh pupils on free school meals achieved five good passes at GCSE or an equivalent qualification, compared to an overall figure of 60.2%.

In an interview with BBC Wales, Sir Alasdair said progress has been made in recognising and tracking the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their peers, but results would take time and resources.

He said the issues were not open to "short term fixes" which fitted into a political cycle of four or five years.

"The politicians - the secretaries of state or cabinet secretaries - are wanting to show that they have achieved something and I think we are achieving something but it's incremental", Sir Alasdair said.

But narrowing the gap in attainment of over 30% would not be done overnight, he said.

"That's a huge gap - we are not going to close that in two or three years - that is a major task.

"But I think we're setting about it and I think there's a recognition that we'll require resources to do that".

Image caption Sir Alasdair Macdonald was appointed as Raising Attainment Advocate for Wales in 2014

Sir Alasdair advises the Welsh government on its flagship policies aimed at raising the attainment of poorer pupils.

The Pupil Deprivation Grant gives schools £1,050 for each pupil aged five to 15 who receives free school meals. The aim is that this money should be spent on ways which will improve their attainment.

Last month Education Secretary Kirsty Williams pledged to double the money spent on the poorest younger children through the Early Years Deprivation Grant - currently £300 per eligible three and four year old.

But the cabinet secretary is known to be more doubtful about the benefits of the £20m Schools Challenge Cymru programme which targets advice and resources on 40 underperforming schools.

Sir Alasdair said he had confidence in the Pupil Deprivation Grant and Schools Challenge Cymru which he called "an excellent initiative".

He was formerly head of Morpeth secondary school in Tower Hamlets where he oversaw a significant leap in the performance of pupils.

He said the way schools are measured at the moment is "too narrow" with too much emphasis on the "narrow achievements" of individual schools.

He said schools should be "held responsible for all the pupils in their community not just the ones in their school".

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