Inner-city schools lift standards in literacy

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The Independent Online

National test results for 11-year-olds announced yesterday show the Government making good progress towards its targets - with inner-city schools in the lead.

National test results for 11-year-olds announced yesterday show the Government making good progress towards its targets - with inner-city schools in the lead.

Ministers were delighted with the first piece of good news for weeks though they have begun a campaign to improve children's writing, which lags well behind reading.

The proportion of pupils reaching the required level in English rose by 4 percentage points and in maths by 3 percentage points. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has said he will resign if 80 per cent of pupils fail to reach the standard in English and 75 per cent in maths by 2002. This year the figures are 75 per cent for English and 72 per cent for maths.

Mr Blunkett told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "When the oil problems and people's ephemeral books are all forgotten, the literacy and numeracy programmes will matter because we will have a literate and numerate nation."

Inner-city local authorities were among those improving fastest . Tower Hamlets in east London led the table for the biggest improvements in both maths and English.

Mr Blunkett visited Marion Richardson school in Tower Hamlets, which has had a four-fold increase in test scores in five years. Eighty per cent reached the expected level in English and 85 per cent in maths. About three-quarters of the school's pupils receive free school meals and 81 per cent have English as a second language. "If this school can do it and Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, can do it then everybody can do it," he said.

The Schools minister Estelle Morris said the daily literacy and numeracy hours were the main reason for the improved results. "The world is now looking to this country for the work we are doing in literacy and numeracy. The greatest increase in standards is in areas of most disadvantage." Better writing, she suggested, tended to follow better reading. "We have concentrated on reading to begin with. Now we are turning to writing. We need to do better."

All teachers of pupils aged 9 and 10 will receive training in the teaching of writing and a new grammar guide.

In secondary schools, the results of national tests in English for 14-year-olds were disappointing, Mr Blunkett said. The percentage reaching the required standard fell by 1 percentage point though it rose in maths and science by 3 and 4 percentage points respectively.

At 11, the gap between boys and girls in reading is narrowing. It is now only 6 points compared with 15 points two years ago. In writing, however, only 48 per cent of boys reached the expected standard compared with 63 per cent of girls.

Ms Morris argued that the structured lessons offered in the literacy and numeracy strategy were particularly helpful to boys. "Boys tend to like structured work. They know where they stand and what the structure of the lesson is going to be." She said schools had also grasped the importance of computers and non-fiction texts in holding boys' attention.

Test results for seven-year-olds, which have consistently been better than those for older groups, improved slightly. Funding for writing and maths in primary schools will rise by £15m more than planned.