Primary schools hit English and maths targets - five years late

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Primary schools will reach an important target for national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds this summer - five years after the original deadline for attaining it.

The percentage of children reaching the required standard in both maths and English tests will rise by between 1 percentage point and 1.5 percentage points this year, according to a survey of local education authorities by The Independent.

This would mean that, for the first time, 80 per cent were reaching the required standard in English - the target figure set in 1997 for 2002. The failure to reach that target on time forced the resignation of then Education secretary Estelle Morris.

In maths, it would mean 77 per cent reaching the required standard - compared with a target of 75 per cent. Such a rise would be good news for Gordon Brown's Government - coming as it does before reforms to English and maths teaching designed to raise standards come into effect. But it still leaves schools short of the one-time target - which then became an "aspiration" - of 85 per cent in both subjects by 2006.

Critics will also claim that this year's figures still leave 120,000 11-year-olds unable to read and write properly - and nearly 140,000 unable to do sums.

Twenty-two local authorities - covering more than 1,000 schools - responded to the survey. Results showed four out of five had increased the percentage getting the required standard in English - while just over half had registered an improvement in maths.

The maths results fluctuated more widely with some authorities showing a 4 percentage point rise while others registered a 4 percentage point drop. English, by comparison, showed a steadier improvement around the country.

The survey coincides with another by the Times Educational Supplement which also predicts that the Government will at last reach its 2002 target.

It looked at 82 schools and found that English results were, on average, 1 percentage point up while maths results were likely to increase by 5 percentage points.

Ministers are optimistic that results will improve further in future years. It was only last September that their directive to primary schools to use synthetic phonics to teach reading came into force so the results of this initiative cannot yet be seen in test scores.

That decision came after an inquiry into reading standards by Jim Rose, the former chief primary school inspector at Ofsted - the education standards watchdog.

In addition, the Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, has announced an inquiry into maths teaching in primary schools to be headed by Sir Peter Williams, the chancellor of Leicester University.

Labour's first few years saw a big improvement in test results from a position in 1997 where only three out of five pupils were reaching the required standard in maths and English. However, the improvement stalled after its first term in office.