INFANTS and junior school pupils in Newport are among the brightest in Wales.

That’s according to a review into pupil performance for 2011/12 that puts the city’s children second in Wales behind Monmouthshire when judged on their performance in the Foundation Phase for three- to seven-year-olds.

This is 12 places above its ranking when the level of children who receive free school meals (FSM) are taken into account, indicating pupils are doing much better than expected when deprivation levels are considered.

At Key Stage Two, seven- to 11- year-olds are also doing well, with Newport currently fourth in Wales in this area – again, against a free school meals ranking of 14th in the country.

The report, presented to cabinet members by the authority’s chief education officer, James Harris, last week showed primary school pupils are well ahead of Welsh Government predictions.

Meanwhile, improvements are being made at Key Stage 3, where youngsters are performing four places above their FSM ranking of 15th, but Mr Harris said the authority would strive to do better.

At Key Stage 4 the number of youngsters gaining five top GCSEs or more at A* to C grade continued to rise, from 47.7 per cent in 2011 to 48.6 per cent last year.

Progress has been made, Mr Harris said, but there is still some way to go, and focus is being put on moving secondary schools up in the Welsh Government’s secondary school banding system.

In 2011 Newport’s overall performance in the banding structure was above average, with half of its eight high schools in the top three bands, including one school in the top and none in the bottom band, five.

In 2012 three schools moved up, three moved down and two remained in the same band as last year. But since then Llanwern High School, formerly Hartridge High, slipped from band three to band five, leaving Newport’s overall banding slightly weaker than in 2011. Mr Harris said the council was now concentrating on supporting pupils and teachers in the lowest- performing schools to ensure they do better next year.

The percentage of pupils leaving full-time education without a recognised qualification continues to be below the national figure, at 0.2 per cent compared with the 0.4 per cent for Wales as a whole. This represented just three pupils in 2012.

Mr Harris said the performance in early years was “fantastic” and showed Newport’s education authority was “punching way above its weight”.

He said: “This is undoubtedly a good-news story but Newport’s education cannot afford to rest on its laurels. We are doing very well, but once we start looking beyond the UK and look internationally we have a way to go to catch up, and that should be our objective.

“There are indeed areas where we need to concentrate and improve and I think aspirations in Newport across all our schools and in the Education Achievement Service as a driver of performance will help achieve that.

“I am confident that Newport will continue to perform at a high level.”

Cabinet member for education and young people Cllr Bob Poole commended the report but said the authority would not be complacent.

He said: “We are at a plateau but we must not remain at that because schools will come up to meet us. We are on the right track, long may it continue.”

Deputy council leader Cllr Ray Truman welcomed the findings but spoke of his dislike of the school banding system. He likened them to league tables and said in most circumstances they did not give a true indication of what was happening in schools.