Nine-year-olds let down by poor maths teachers

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Results of tests for nine-year-olds which will be published today are expected to show that children are not making enough progress between the ages of seven and nine. Judith Judd, Education Editor, reports.

At present, pupils take national tests at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 but there is growing concern among school inspectors that standards are unacceptably low among eight- and nine-year-olds. Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools, said in his annual report last week that 15 per cent of lessons for eight-year-olds were unsatisfactory compared with 12 per cent for six-year-olds and 10 per cent for 11-year-olds. He also suggested that some heads were putting their weakest teachers in charge of classes of eight-year-olds.

Today, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will report on tests in maths and English taken by nine-year-olds in 270 pilot schools. They are thought to indicate that children's progress is too slow after they take the national tests for seven-year-olds. This summer, the authority will make tests for nine-year-olds available to all schools which wish to use them.

Mr Woodhead last week encouraged teachers to take up the opportunity. But the Department for Education and Employment made it clear yesterday that ministers are not at present considering compulsory national tests for this age group.

Last week, Mr Woodhead's annual report said that in some cases bad teaching was damaging the education of children in affluent areas. The report said that in some schools in better off areas, less than half of 11-year-olds were reaching expected standards in English. This was well below the national average.

The report also suggested that the tests for seven-year-olds may be too easy. Pupils may find themselves struggling in junior schools because the tests presented too positive a picture, it said.

Last month a Government task force called for parents to have more involvement in helping improve children's education.

The task force, chaired by David Reynolds of Newcastle University, said parents had to have a bigger role if three quarters of all 11-year-olds are to meet set standards by 2002, as the Government has demanded.

Kenneth Baker, the former secretary of state for education, who introduced the national curriculum nearly a decade ago, considered setting up tests for nine-year-olds but was dissuaded by his advisers who said that schools would be spending too much time testing children and not enough teaching them. Ministers have already agreed to start national assessments for five-year-olds from September.

A Conservative MP has condemned the arrest of five teachers at a nursery school over allegations of mistreatment as "sheer madness".

Alan Duncan, Tory MP for Melton Mowbray, said he was "appalled and dismayed" that five teachers at a private day nursery in the Leicestershire town had been charged with offences of cruelty.

The MP said all the parents of children at the nursery were backing the accused staff, who are understood not to face any allegations involving physical or sexual abuse. Four people have been charged with wilfully ill-treating a child in a manner likely to cause injury or suffering. A fifth person has also been charged with causing or procuring ill-treatment.