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Helping the poorest pupils

A recent report from the education watchdog, Estyn highlighted the need for schools in Wales to do more to stamp out absenteeism and truancy. They said that nearly a third of secondary schools are not doing enough to improve their pupil's attendance, and that means poor or vulnerable children are losing out.

During the discussion on this report the head teacher of Maesteg Comprehensive School told one interviewer that teenagers refusing to budge from their beds in the morning are getting a wake-up call by school staff determined to keep them in the classroom.

As shocking as this is, it is not confined to that school. I have come across a number of schools where money given to them by the Assembly’s Pupil Deprivation Grant to help poorer pupils in receipt of free school meals is being spent on pastoral care, essentially to improve attendance at school by that group of youngsters.

The logic is that if kids are in school then their achievement levels improve. And that is proving to be the case.

The Pupil Deprivation Grant was negotiated by the Welsh Liberal Democrats so schools could help pupils from poorer backgrounds achieve their potential. Four in five of those pupils receiving free school meals will fail to get five good GCSEs including maths and English. We are helping to turn this around.

As a result of our deal with the Welsh Government, this year every school is receiving directly an extra £918 for each pupil on free school meals. That amounts to tens of thousands of pounds extra for most schools. That funding is set to increase and be sustained for at least two more years after this one, breaking the link between poverty and poor attainment.

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