Primary school pupils fail to hit targets for maths and English

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The Independent Online

Ministers have failed to reach their key education goal of getting 85 per cent of 11-year-olds to master the three Rs before they leave primary school, this year's test results will show.

The results, officially published later this month, will show an improvement in the percentage of pupils reaching the required standard in English and maths. But the rise will be just over 1 per cent in each, bringing the figures to 80 per cent in English and 77 per cent in maths - well below the Government's aim, according to a survey of England's 150 local education authorities by The Independent. It means 120,000 youngsters have failed to reach the required standard in English, with 138,000 in maths.

The results will be published at exactly the same time as GCSE results - which are expected to show an improvement - prompting claims that ministers are attempting to bury bad news. The improvement does mean that - for the first time - Labour has reached the target that it set for 2002 on first taking office. It was the failure to reach that target which was partly responsible for the resignation of the education secretary, Estelle Morris. She had denied promising to resign if the target was not met but the Conservatives unearthed a House of Commons speech in which she had put her job on the line.

The Conservatives' schools spokesman, Nick Gibb, said: "The improvement is clearly welcome but we're still a long way from where we need to be. It indicates there are still problems with the teaching of reading and, in particular, with the teaching of maths in primary schools."

Teachers' leaders said the targets had been "plucked out of the air" and called for them to be scrapped.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The Government's targets and league table regime is forcing teachers to teach to the tests." However, he said there was "a law of diminishing returns" which made it more difficult to make improvements as the percentage reaching the required standard rose.

"The Government not only fails to recognise this but then plucks targets out of the air without any recourse to what is achievable or the nature of the population coming into schools," he added. "At the same time they put more and more responsibilities on to schools. Despite this, the performance has continued to improve but nowhere near to the level the Government wants - which is unreal."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added that it was "not surprising" the Government had failed to reach the target. He said there needed to be a change in the "culture and context" of education before major improvements could be made.

The survey by The Independent revealed the rise in performance - particularly in English - was more marked in inner-city schools. One authority, the City of Nottingham, saw a 4 per cent increase in maths and English. We received replies from 40 authorities and the results showed an anticipated rise of 1 per cent in maths and 1.1 per cent in English.

A similar survey of individual schools by The Times Educational Supplement showed a predicted 2.4 per cent rise in English but little change in maths.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills declined to comment on the results.

However, officials insisted that there was no attempt to bury bad news with the timing of publication, saying the decision had been made by statisticians.