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Education News

Primary pupils fail to master the 3 Rs

Around 220,000 11-year-olds are still failing to master at least one of the three basic subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic, tests results published today show.

The figures show the biggest problem is with writing where only 67 per cent of youngsters achieved the required grade – a figure which has remained static for the past three years.

Boys fare worse than girls with just 60 per cent achieving the required standard – compared with 74 per cent of girls.

Overall, the results showed that 81 per cent of youngsters achieving the standard in English (up one per cent from last year) and 78 per cent in maths (also up one per cent). The figure for science remained static at 88 per cent.

Only 61 per cent of 11-year-olds manage to master the basics in all three subjects, though.

This year’s results showed that around 66 per cent of scripts (half of them in English) were still missing at the time the results were prepared as a result of the marking which saw ETS Europe, the American-based firm charged with marking and delivering the papers, fail to meet the deadline for producing the results. Of those papers, around 17,000 are still missing.

Meanwhile, research published today shows that the true figure of those struggling to master the basics is likely to be even higher. A survey shows that a majority of teachers believes SATs (national curriculum) tests for 11-year-olds give an exaggerated picture of their pupils’ performance.

As a result of being coached for the tests, thousands of children achieve better results than their ability merits – and then fall behind when they start secondary school. The country’s secondary school heads say that almost every school will retest their first-year pupils at the start of the autumn term because they have lost confidence in the ability of national curriculum tests to identify a child’s potential.

Today’s results, while welcomed by Schools Minister Jim Knight, show ministers are still far away from meeting their target of getting 85 per cent of pupils top reach the required standard in both subjects. They had hoped to achieve that by 2006. Ministers said they had gone ahead with the publication of this year’s results despite claims from headteachers that they would be “meaningless” because of the record numbers of appeals being made by schools in the wake of this year’s fiasco because they had been assured by statisticians the results were reliable.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, schools and Families said: “independent statisticians make the decision to publish the results, independent watchdog Ofqual provides assurance about test standards and independent Ofsted (the education standards watchdog) says ‘the data is extremely helpful in evaluating effectiveness schools’ effectiveness’.”

The Conservatives estimated the figures meant more than three million children had left primary school without mastering the basics since Labour came to power in 1997.

Michael Gove, the conservatives’ schools spokesman, said: “An entire generation of primary school children have been failed on Labour’s watch. Nothing can be more crucial than ensuring pupils learn to read so they can read to learn.”

However, the DCSF spokeswoman said: “Standards in our schools are rising and we do not accept this is as a result of teaching to the test.”

Today’s survey of teachers by the independent think-tank Civitas shows 90 per cent of teachers believe their pupils’ test results paint a wrong picture of their pupils’ abilities.

Of these, 79 per cent say test results are an improvement on classroom performance – mainly because pupils have been coached for the tests. Only ten per cent believe their pupils fare worse in tests than they should do.