A fifth of 11-year-olds have failed to learn basic English and maths

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The Independent Online

A fifth of children leave primary school unable to read, write or add up properly, the education watchdog revealed yesterday. It dismissed claims by ministers that standards were rising, saying they had "stalled".

Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of Ofsted, said it was "unacceptable" that 20 per cent of pupils still fail to master basic English and maths aged 11, while one in 10 teenagers drops out of education and work.

Ms Gilbert outlined plans for a radical overhaul of the way the watchdog monitors schools, in which children and parents would be able to trigger inspections. These could be carried out without the current two-day warning, a move described by the National Union of Teachers as "punitive".

The chief inspector said many pupils who left primary school without a good basic grasp of maths and English later made up a large number of the 10 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds who found themselves out of education, employment or training.

The proposals, published for consultation yesterday, suggest inspections should monitor the progress of the most vulnerable or gifted children.

"If education in England is going to compare favourably with the best in the world, standards need to improve. In fact they have stalled," the proposals say. "Not only that, but the gap between outcomes for specific groups of children and young people and the majority remains too large."

Ms Gilbert said: "We need to accelerate improvements and we are looking at ways of doing that. It's unacceptable that 20 per cent of pupils go from primary to secondary not fully functional in literacy and numeracy." The figure had not improved in recent years and the gap between "haves" and the "have-nots" was not reducing fast enough.

Intensive inspections drove weak schools to improve "but there is still a long way to go. Although many of these schools go on to become good and outstanding, too many fall back and become inadequate.

The key challenges, therefore, are to improve the weakest, and to prevent those that are improving from slipping back."

The reforms, which would be introduced in September next year, aim to force "coasting" schools to improve while leaving the best schools for longer between inspections. Ofsted visits would be triggered if it was found that a large number of pupils were "bored" in lessons or unhappy. The views of parents and pupils would be "key indicators for identifying when schools need to be inspected".

Lightning inspections will be trialled in which teachers receive no warning before a visit so Ofsted can "see the school as it really is". But the best schools would be left for up to six years between inspections with a "health check" after three years.