'We have set ourselves a challenging agenda in Wales. The chief inspector's report underlines that there is still much to do and, in particular, to realise the improvements that will flow from our plans for the new foundation stage, the recasting of opportunities and learning pathways for 14-19 year olds and action to drive up skill levels. But the overall message is clear - the programme of work set out in The Learning Country is very much on track with year on year improvements in standards and the quality of provision.
'At the heart of our strategy is a commitment to provide the very best start in life for every child. It is particularly pleasing, therefore, to note the improvements being achieved in schools and pre school learning across Wales. The report underlines that:
* the standards that children under 5 achieve are improving year on year
* pupils in special schools are making better and better progress. They are reaching higher standards in all subjects and in all key stages
* in primary schools the standards that pupils achieve have improved greatly in the last 5 years
* in the first phase of secondary education (key stage 3) standards were higher than last year in almost every subject.
'However, the improvements in the examination achievement of 16 year olds have been slow with signs that results have reached a plateau. It is for this very reason that we are taking action to transform opportunities for 14-19 year olds through our Learning Pathways programme. Developed in partnership with local networks and informed at every stage by the views of young people the Learning Pathways programme will extend choice and flexibility and equip young people with the skills needed for life and work. In particular, Learning Pathways will look to promote inclusion and reduce drop-out rates by providing young people with access to a broad and innovative range of learning opportunities.£43m will be made available over the next 3 years to drive forward this ambitious and groundbreaking programme.
'It is also pleasing to see Estyn's assessment that, overall, the quality of youth work is good. It is clear that the Young People's Partnerships are making good progress in co-ordinating the work of different providers of services in each area. As a result there are better opportunities for young people to gain the social and practical skills needed to cope in adult life and to share what they have learnt with others.
'I very much share the chief inspector's view that those in the youth justice system must have ready access to good quality education and training. Such provision is a major factor in preventing offending and reoffending. Working with partners, including the Home Office and Youth Justice Board, we have therefore put work in hand to improve opportunities. A range of innovative approaches will be tested including the piloting of personal support provided by youth workers for young people undertaking custodial sentences. This project will involve work with young offenders, their families and key agencies prior to release, to secure a smooth transition on return to the community with improved access to education and training.
'The bedrock for the Learning Pathway programme lies in effective partnerships between schools, colleges and training providers. It is, therefore, encouraging to see that the standards achieved by learners in further education institutions have improved this year with student attainment assessed as good or very good in close to two thirds of the programme areas inspected. Similarly, teaching in further education institutions has improved in the last five years and there is now very much more good teaching. However, the report notes that there are still shortcomings in teaching in some areas. In addition although the quality of work based training has improved in the last five years, only around one third of training is good or very good.
'There can be no compromise on standards and ELWa, through its Workplace Learning Review, has already considered what needs to be done to address any shortcomings. In concert with Estyn and the Assembly, ELWa is taking action to ensure that there are systematic approaches, at all levels, to quality management including the development of a new quality framework by March 2005. The Review, which has been accepted by ELWa's National Council, recommends that over an agreed timescale ELWa should withdraw funding from providers that do not meet a minimum Estyn inspection grade 3 in all aspects of delivery and that it should work closely with providers to raise quality and improve standards, for example by introducing packages of targeted support and monitoring for under-performing providers.
'This is just one element of our Skills and Employment Action Plan for Wales 2005 published in January. The plan will ensure that our policies across the skills, employment and economic agendas are truly joined up and that we drive up both demand for high-skilled employment and the supply of highly-skilled well-qualified people in Wales.
'It is a tribute to the commitment and hard work of practitioners and managers across Wales that, yet again, we have seen improvements in the quality of teaching with significant gains in the school and college settings. Allied with year on year improvements in standards and the quality of provision there is, therefore, much to celebrate in this report.
'It is clear that our Made in Wales agenda is making a real difference to the opportunities provided for learners at all levels. While there is still much to do we are firmly on track to realiseour ambition to make Wales a learning county.
The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, 2003-04' is available here.