Analysis: Improvements, but there's still work to be done

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Well, despite the research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers which suggests ministers have exaggerated the rise in standards in primary schools, all are agreed: there has been an improvement in literacy and numeracy.

It is worth noting that this year's modest rise of an extra percentage point reaching the required standard follows four years from 2000 to 2003 where the results stubbornly refused to improve.

Ministers have not only still failed to reach their target set for 2002 of 80 per cent reaching the required standard in English and 75 per cent in maths but also need a miracle if both are to reach 85 per cent next year.

However, it is worth remembering that when national curriculum tests were first introduced, level four (the required standard) was meant to denote the average standard of performance expected of an 11-year-old. It was only later changed to represent the level everyone was expected to reach.

Indeed, yesterday's results show that 27 per cent in English and 31 per cent in maths now go on to reach level five (originally the level demanded of a 14-year-old) by the time they leave primary school.

But it is worth noting that there is still work to be done - particularly in improving results in boys' writing where only 55 per cent reach the required standard compared with 72 per cent of girls.

Jim Rose, the former head of primary inspections at Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, has been charged with carrying out a review of the workings of the literacy hour and been given a specific remit to look at whether synthetic phonics should be used more widely to teach reading.

As a result of yesterday's results, he might also look at what needs to be done to ensure that improvement in boys' reading (where the percentage reaching the required standard has risen from 79 per cent to 82 per cent this year) is carried over into their writing.