Girls aged five beat boys for behaviour and the 'three Rs'

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The Independent Online

Girls are outperforming boys in everything from the 'three Rs' to how to dress and behave before they start lessons, the first national test results of five-year-olds show.

Girls are outperforming boys in everything from the 'three Rs' to how to dress and behave before they start lessons, the first national test results of five-year-olds show.

All four- and five-year-olds are assessed by their teachers on a range of subjects when they start primary school or in their reception class. Subjects covered include whether they can count to 10, recognise the alphabet, communicate with others, tie their shoelaces, recite nursery rhymes and dress themselves.

Yesterday's figures, published by the Department for Education and Skills, show that in all of the 13 areas of assessment, applied to about 550,000 pupils, the girls are streets ahead. The gap is most marked in "creative development" (imaginative play), in which 58 per cent of girls have reached or performed better than the targets set for them, compared with 42 per cent of boys.

Boys are also lagging behind in writing; 38 per cent of girls reach the target compared with 26 per cent of boys. The gap is smaller in reading: 43 to 35.

The results give the first statistical indication that girls develop understanding faster than boys before being introduced to the national curriculum. Girls' better performance in national curriculum tests had been put down to concentration in lessons.

The Department for Education and Skills stressed yesterday that the results should be treated with caution as some of the data was of poor quality and incomplete. It decided to publish the results after pressure from local education authorities.

However, ministers are taking comfort from results that show well over half of all five-year-olds scored well in personal, social and emotional development. In all, 58 per cent were performing better than expected in the attitude they adopted towards others and 55 per cent scored highly for emotional development.

Research has shown that many children lack social skills on arriving at primary school, being unable to communicate because, it has been claimed, their parents leave them alone all day in front of television screens. Yesterday's results show, however, that many can give their own names and recite nursery rhymes. Academics said that the expansion of services for the under-fives - providing free nursery provision for all three- and four-year-olds enrolled - could account for the performance.

However, teachers' leaders argued that the assessment system was so flawed - with 117 reports on every child - that the results should not have been published. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the assessment - known as the foundation stage profile - was "in dire need of a radical overhaul".

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "The biggest concern of five-year-olds should be playing and having fun. Now 36,000 of them are being told they haven't reached the mark in 'having knowledge and understanding of the world'. Ministers have become so obsessed with testing they have forgotten how valuable learning through play is for a child."

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