Test scores rise - but still miss targets

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Standards in the three R's at primary school have risen for the first time in four years, this year's test results for 11-year-olds will show.

Standards in the three R's at primary school have risen for the first time in four years, this year's test results for 11-year-olds will show.

An exclusive poll of local education authorities (LEAs) for The Independent reveals the percentage of pupils reaching the required standard in maths and English has improved for first time since 2000.

The modest rise predicted by the poll - of 1.4 percentage points in English, which includes tests in reading and writing, and 2.1 points in maths - is still not enough to enable the Government to meet its main education target set in 1997.

Within weeks of winning power, Labour pledged to get 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to the standard in English by 2002 and 75 per cent to the standard demanded in maths. Today's poll, based on returns by one in four of England's 150 local education authorities, will bring the figures to 76.3 per cent in English and 75.2 per cent in maths.

The rise, if confirmed when the results are published on 24 August, will be greeted with sighs of relief by ministers.

If this year's tests had produced stagnation for the fifth year running in England, Tony Blair would have been forced to concede he had presided over an entire Parliament without any discernible rise in standards.

His political opponents would have used the Prime Minister's commitment to "education, education and education" as evidence that Labour was failing to deliver the goods.

Now ministers will be able to boast that their drive to raise standards is back on track.

Headteachers' leaders urged caution over the figures. David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It does not surprise me at all if we see a modest increase this year. Heads and their teachers have been working their socks off to deliver higher standards. But I would not want the Government to run away with the idea that we can achieve this year after year. There will be years when the results stall - that's inevitable."

He added: "If the survey reflects the national picture then I think the Government should be extremely pleased that schools have worked so hard to raise standards."

John Coe, the general secretary of the National Association for Primary Education, said: "There are so many variables with these tests that I don't think it's hugely significant. Much of the earlier rises in results will have been due to the pressure of the tests which pushed schools to coach children for them. The research on coaching shows that after a rise the results will plateau. That's what we have seen here."

Today's poll shows wide variations between LEAs. In English, the figures ranged from an 8.4-point increase in one authority to a 2.5-point drop in another. Fewer than two-thirds of authorities reported improvements while just under one in three showed a deterioration.

In maths, the range went from a 7.4-point improvement by one authority to a 6-point drop by another in the inner cities - into which Labour has ploughed the lion's share of resources. More than four out of five authorities registered improvements with just under one in seven recording a fall.