Richard Garner: A good start, but lots to do

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There are at least three reasons to be cheerful about the results in this year's primary school performance tables. First, there is growing evidence that more primary school pupils are reaching level five - that expected of a 14-year-old - before transferring to secondary school.

There are at least three reasons to be cheerful about the results in this year's primary school performance tables. First, there is growing evidence that more primary school pupils are reaching level five - that expected of a 14-year-old - before transferring to secondary school.

The big success story is in science, where 43 per cent of all youngsters achieve level five before leaving primary school. The figures for maths and English are 31 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. Also, the number of schools getting all their pupils at least to achieve level four (the level expected of an 11-year-old) in all three subjects has shot up again. Two years ago, the figure was 124, last year it was 142. Today it stands at 190.

For the first time in three years, too, the overall percentage in the two key subjects - maths and English - reaching level four went up. In English, it increased from 75 per cent to 78 per cent and maths from 73 per cent to 74 per cent.

It at least saved Tony Blair from the embarrassment of being forced to go into the next election without having secured any improvement at all in standards in primary schools.

Therein is the twist in the tale, however. The Government still has not met the target it set in 1997 to be achieved by 2002 - 80 per cent of 11-year-olds getting level four in English and 75 per cent in maths. Failure to meet this target means there is still too wide a gap between the best and worst-performing primary schools. One in four pupils still fails to achieve adequate numeracy standards by the time they leave primary school. However almost one in three achieves a level demanded of 14-year-olds.

Earlier this week Michael Howard, the Conservative party leader, claimed the fact that one in four youngsters was still leaving primary school without having mastered the basics was the cause of rising indiscipline in schools. He would do well to reflect that the figure was 40 per cent in 1997 when the present Government introduced its literacy and numeracy strategy for schools. That said, there can be no complacency over these figures. As a school report might say of pupil achievement: "has tried hard, but must do better".

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