SPELLING, grammar and punctuation errors are hampering the pace of improvement in English lessons, the chief inspector of Estyn has said, despite most seven to 14-year-olds in Wales speaking well in lessons.
An Estyn report, published today, found the majority of pupils from Years 3 to 9 in Wales achieve good standards in English, with pupils speaking clearly during discussions and responding well to a wide variety of texts.
Despite this, inspectors said concerns remain about standards in writing, with opposition AMs describing Wales' seven to 14-year-olds as "forgotten" by policy makers.
Estyn's report, which holds up Glan Usk Primary School in Newport as a model of best practice, found there are "continuing weaknesses" in pupils’ higher-order reading skills and in their spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do not achieve as well as their peers, a gap which widens from primary to secondary school, the report concluded.
Estyn's chief inspector Ann Keane said: "Despite the improving trend in the standards of English, the rate of progress is still too slow for seven to 14-year-olds in Wales to catch up with other areas of the UK.
"Inaccuracies in spelling, punctuation and grammar reduce the quality of writing and affect standards."
Welsh Conservatives called for the development of a middle phase in Welsh education in response to the report, arguing it would better support pupils moving from primary to secondary school, and help put an end to gaps in attainment.
Tory shadow minister for education, Angela Burns AM said children aged seven and 14 are "being forgotten" in Wales.
Education minister Huw Lewis said he recognised that improvements need to be made, particularly around standards of writing and the performance of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"Estyn’s comments about poor quality marking and feedback also need to be addressed," he said. "This is not good enough and has to change."
He cited Welsh Government's literacy and numeracy framework and national reading tests as helping to "encourage improvement".
In Estyn's report Glan Usk Primary School was praised for having developed "excellent teaching and assessment practices", and for using assessment to help pupils understand where they were and how to progress.
"The work has resulted in a rising trend in pupils’ performance in English with standards exceeding local and national averages," inspectors said.
Overall the team concluded there is still too much poor quality marking of pupils’ work, adding that teachers identify pupils’ weaknesses "without explanation" and do not provide enough guidance on how to improve.
In a list of recommendations Estyn said schools need to continue to focus on raising standards of pupils’ independent writing, provide challenging work in English to stretch all pupils and tackle the underperformance of pupils entitled to free school meals.