Government accused of legacy of illiteracy
Lib Dems say half a million pupils have left school unable to read or write since 1997
The number of children who have left primary school unable to read or write since Labour came to power in 1997 will pass half a million when the latest SATs results are published today, the Liberal Democrats have predicted.
Recent trends show that there are currently around 35,000 pupils a year who fail to reach level 3, meaning they show no "useful literacy" at the age of 11. This is enough to send the total over the 500,000 mark this time.
The Lib Dems' Education spokesman David Laws said proven schemes were not being used sufficiently and called for smaller class sizes and increased funding for schools. "It is shocking that under Labour nearly half a million children have so far left primary school unable to read and write.
"These children are far more likely to fall further behind and be turned off education altogether. Only 8,000 children have benefited from the Reading Recovery programme this year, even though it has proven to be very successful in supporting children struggling with reading from an early age.
"Ministers need to cut class sizes and ensure schools receive additional funding so that teachers can give struggling children the extra support they desperately need," he said. The party has promised a £2.5bn pupil premium to bring school spending on children from disadvantaged backgrounds up to private-sector levels.
Today's results will show how England's 11-year-olds are performing in English, maths and science. About 600,000 took the national curriculum tests, known as SATs, in May this year.
Last year, the national results showed a 1 per cent increase in the number of 11-year-olds reaching level 4, the standard required of that age group, in English and maths. But more than a third were still leaving primary school without grasping the finer points of reading, writing and maths.
Two teaching unions have called for the tests to be scrapped, saying it is "unacceptable" for them to continue. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) are to ballot their members in the autumn on boycotting next year's tests.
The results of this year's tests were returned to schools on time last month, following last summer's administrative fiasco which saw results delayed. But the NUT warned then that up to one in five results could still be inaccurate.
Last year, 81 per cent of pupils reached level 4 in English, 78 per cent reached it in maths and 88 per cent in science. In total, 61 per cent of pupils reached this level in reading, writing and arithmetic.
In May, a Government-commissioned review of testing recommended that national science tests for 11-year-olds be abolished from next year in favour of teacher assessment. And it left the door open for the entire system to be scrapped in the future.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls scrapped SATs for 14-year-olds in October last year, following the exams fiasco.
Schools Minister Diana Johnson said: "We know that 163,000 more pupils have gained at least a level 3 in English, and 183,000 in maths, than if school standards had remained the same as in 1997." She added that the majority of children who do not reach this level at 11 have learning difficulties.
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