English and maths targets for 14-year-olds to be missed

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Ministers will miss their targets for boosting secondary school standards, national test results published yesterday suggest, with some subjects even failing to make the grade set last year.

Although the results of tests taken by all 14-year-olds in England this summer were the "best ever", ministers are not on track to meet their challenging targets for 2007, figures from the Department for Education and Skills showed. The English and maths results are so low that they still have not met the original targets set for last year.

The Government has set challenging targets for 14-year-olds. By 2007, 85 per cent of 14-year-olds should be up to standard in English and maths and 80 per cent in science. Teachers' leaders complained that children face too many tests and called for a radical review of the system of targets and tests.

Jacqui Smith, the Schools minister, said that the results showed that pupils were "reaping the benefits" of the Government's drive to raise standards in secondary schools.

She argued that ministers had been right to set "tough" targets but yesterday acknowledged that they might not be met. "Even if or when we do not meet the targets I still think the message of the targets is that whoever you are and wherever you are we want you to succeed.

"That is why we launched the key stage three national strategy, to improve the quality of teaching, to set a faster pace of learning, and to make sure that children's success at primary school continues on into secondary education."

This year's results saw English scores rise by three percentage points to 74 per cent. In maths, results also now stand at 74 per cent, a rise of one point. And after a surprise fall in science results last year, there was a sharp, four-point rise this year, to 70 per cent of pupils reaching the standard expected of 14-year-olds.

Girls continue to outperform boys, with the gender gap now standing at 13 points in English and one point in maths and science. Although boys narrowed the gap in writing skills this year, they fell further behind at reading. This means there is still an 11-point gap to close in just two years for English and maths, and 10 points to make up in science.

At the current rate of improvement these targets will not be met. They failed to meet earlier targets for 2004 which required 75 per cent of pupils to reach the standard in English and maths and 70 per cent in science. This means the English and maths scores are still one point short of the 2004 target, while in science the goal was met a year later than required.

But Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, called for a review of government tests and targets. "It is time the Government carried out a full-scale review of the testing regime to assess how far it is meeting the needs of our children," he said. "Currently the tests provide a narrow and distorted picture of the achievements of secondary schools."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association (SHA), argued children were forced to sit too many exams. He said the improvement in results did not alter that view.

Nicolas Gibb, the Tory education spokesman, condemned the results: "Let's be brutally frank about these results. They show that 32 per cent of 14-year-olds in this country are still not reading at the expected level. The Government should be alarmed and taking action."