Education: Literacy targets for every local authority

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Literacy targets for every local authority are expected to be announced today by Stephen Byers, schools standards minister. Some local authorities will have to double the proportion of their primary pupils reaching the expected standard in English under the plans, to be outlined at the north of England education conference.

Mr Byers will tell the Bradford conference of local authority representatives and education experts that every authority has agreed to challenging new targets to raise standards by 2002. Ministers have said they want 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to achieve the expected standard in national tests in English within the next five years. The figure now is 56 per cent, and some local authorities who have just over 30 per cent of their pupils reaching the target must double that figure. The best-performing authorities will have to ensure that around 90 per cent of their pupils meet their targets.

Officials at the Department for Education and Employment suggested targets for each authority last autumn. It is understood that all have now come up with figures acceptable to David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education.

Professor Michael Barber, a senior government adviser, told the conference yesterday that Britain was not yet in the premier league for literacy. In maths we came 25th in a recent international study. "These statistics provide powerful justification for the Government's vigorous attack on the tail of under-performance."

Mr Byers will say today that the Government's numeracy task force under Professor David Reynolds of Newcastle University will report before the end of the month. The Government will then set targets for all authorities. It wants 75 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the expected standard by 2002.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, told the conference that the education system needed a radical rethink. The Government, he said, should stop tinkering with a failing system and create an inclusive education system to meet the needs of the next millennium. He said since so much was learnt between the ages of 0 and 3, we should treat the early years as a distinctive phase, the foundation stage.

There must be a fairer distribution of funding, he said. "We must question why we accept larger classes in primary than in secondary schools. If there is to be no extra money then we should consider reallocating it."

- Judith Judd

Education Editor