Test results show slip in primary school standards

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The Independent Online

The Government's hopes of reaching a target for raising primary school standards have suffered a serious setback, figures released yesterday show.

The Government's hopes of reaching a target for raising primary school standards have suffered a serious setback, figures released yesterday show.

The results of this year's national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds prove standards in maths have actually fallen for the first time since the Government launched its literacy and numeracy strategy. Standards in English failed to improve and remain well short of the target.

The results are even worse than those suggested in a survey by The Independent last month, which indicated that the rate of improvement in the "three Rs" was slowing down. For the Government to meet its targets of 80 per cent reaching the required standard in English by 2002 and 75 per cent in maths there will have to be a big improvement.

The proportion reaching the standard for maths has slipped from 72 per cent to 71 per cent while the figure for English remains at 75 per cent.

An analysis of the results reveals that it is the higher- performing suburban and county areas, where results have been traditionally high, that are now slipping. Many inner-city education authority areas are still showing substantial improvements.

The targets were announced by Labour within days of taking office after the 1997 election, and David Blunkett, who was Secretary of State for Education, threatened to resign if they were not met. He has now moved to the Home Office.

Estelle Morris, his successor, was putting a brave face on the figures yesterday. She said: "The results in English and maths are disappointing overall but show considerable variation. The English results still represent a 10 percentage point improvement and the maths results a 12 percentage point improvement over the last three years.

"There is a greater disparity this year in the performance of different schools and local education authorities. In English, for instance, some sixty LEAs [local education authorities], including a number of historically underachieving areas, have continued to improve while other LEAs, including some higher-performing areas, have dropped back a little."

Headteachers' leaders argued that to expect continued year-on-year improvements was unrealistic. They added that the figures raised a serious question mark over reaching the Government's next target – 85 per cent meeting the required standard in both disciplines by 2004.

In English, the figures show a rise of 3 percentage points in writing standards (58 per cent compared with 55 per cent). Concern had been raised that boys lagged far behind girls in that discipline, and they still trail by 15 percentage points – 50 per cent to 65 per cent. Reading standards slipped from 83 per cent to 82 per cent.

In science, the only subject to be tested where a target was not set, the percentage reaching the standard rose from 85 per cent to 87 per cent.