Results of national curriculum tests for children of 7, 11 and 14 showed 59 per cent of 11-year-olds had reached the required standard in maths, down from 62 per cent last year.
The Government has staked its reputation on achieving a sharp increase in the performance of primary school pupils. Ministers have pledged that 80 per cent of 11-year-olds will achieve the expected level by 2002, and 75 per cent in maths. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has promised to resign if the targets are not met.
David Willetts, the Conservative education spokesman, said: "This is very worrying.There has been a lot of disruption because of the new initiatives from David Blunkett."
Government sources said the decline in maths performance was due to new mental arithmetic tests. Mr Blunkett said: "The tough new mental arithmetic test meant that teachers and children alike were faced with a new challenge. This has made it harder to achieve the target we set but we make no apology for it. This change is long overdue. Mental arithmetic skills are an essential part of numeracy."
He said the new literacy hour introduced in primary schools last month would yield significant improvements.
Ministers hope the numeracy hour, due to be introduced next September, will do the same for maths.Reuse content