A “DISGRACEFUL” disparity in GCSE attainment figures between poorer pupils and their peers has been challenged during a heated debate amongst Monmouthshire councillors.

Only 18 per cent of pupils receiving free school meals (FSM) got five A*-C grades last year, compared to 66 per cent of non-FSM pupils.

This makes Monmouthshire the worst performing authority Wales for the Level 2 inclusive threshold, something highlighted in a motion by Councillor Dimitri Batrouni.

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Councillor Dimitri Batrouni.

Speaking at full council, the council’s Labour group leader said: “Many, if not all other councils, deal with children of similar backgrounds except they do better than us.

“This is nothing short of a disgrace. There’s an underlying problem in Monmouthshire and it can’t be ignored."

Prior to the meeting on Thursday, Cllr Batrouni accused the Conservative-led council of failing to provide the necessary support to our schools through “relentless cuts”.

Labour councillor Tudor Thomas and Councillor Jo Watkins, of the Liberal Democrats, called on officers to work with better performing local authorities to do the best for struggling pupils.

Independent councillor Debby Blakebrough also questioned the performance of the Education Achievement Service (EAS), while calling for a wider review of the “crude and often cruel” national exam system.

The meeting heard that work was already under way with partner authorities like the EAS to improve the situation.

Conservative councillor Richard John, cabinet member for education, said: “The [Key Stage 4 attainment] gap is too wide, I’ve said that repeatedly and it remains a key priority for this authority.

“I must emphasise that it’s the schools and experienced teachers who are putting these interventions in place. They’re the experts, not politicians pontificating in here.”

Cllr John added that Monmouthshire pupils were performing better at earlier education phases and ranked high in social mobility.

But the council’s leader Peter Fox accused Cllr Batrouni of using his motion as a “political platform at the expense of vulnerable people”.

“When you attack the administration, you’re criticising many wonderful teachers in this authority,” said Cllr Fox.

“I wish you could apply your articulation to your colleagues in Cardiff Bay. Your government is letting the children and young people of this country down and have done for the last 20 years.”

The motion, which demanded answers from the Conservative administration “as to why they continue to let down vulnerable children”, was defeated.

Councillors from both sides of the chamber shouted “shame on you” at their opponents as the votes were cast.