The Government's drive to raise literacy and numeracy standards in primary schools has failed to make an impact on GCSE results, ministers have been told.
An analysis by Labour's favourite think tank, The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), claims that any increase in performance in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds has dissipated by the time the youngsters take their GCSEs.
The paper, by Peter Robinson, senior economist at the IPPR, says that, while there was a major improvement in literacy scores between 1995 and 2000 among 11-year-olds, the rise in GCSE performance was only what would have been predicted as a result of long-term trends.
Figures show that the number of 11-year-olds reaching the required standard in English went up from only three in five to 76 per cent in that period. Over the same time span, the percentage of youngsters obtaining five top grade A* to C- grade passes rose by just four per cent.
Mr Robinson's paper offers two reasons for the lack of progress. "Either the gains at 11 are overstated and/or value added (to the pupils' performance) in secondary schools has fallen," it argues.
It plays down a third possibility - that GCSE exams have become harder to pass.
The findings, delivered to Whitehall officials, government advisers, headteachers and academics at a seminar earlier this month, will cause a major rethink on government policy.
Treasury officials are pressing hard for the Department for Education and Skills to deliver on a target of getting 85 per cent of all 11-year-olds to reach the required standard in maths and English by 2006.
But the IPPR claims there would be no point if the improvement was not carried on to GCSE level.
The findings confirm research carried out by Ofsted, the Government's education standards watchdog, that one in three pupils slides back in maths and English performance during the first year of secondary school.