Results of national curriculum tests for children of 7, 11 and 14 showed that 59 per cent of 11-year-olds had reached the required standard in maths, down from 62 per cent last year.
English scores rose two percentage points, with 65 per cent of 11-year- olds reaching the national standard, but the rate of improvement was sharply reduced. The increase last year was five percentage points last year, with schools achieving a 10-point increase the year before.
There was also a slight decline in the number of 14-year-olds gaining national standards in maths and science, although English results were up. English tests for seven-year-olds showed a gain.
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 Tory education spokesman, said: "This is a very worrying development and what it means is the Government is a long way away from meeting their targets in literacy and numeracy. They started setting targets and the standards have started falling."
Government sources said the decline in maths was due to new mental arithmetic tests introduced for the first time this year. They insisted schools were on target to achieve the 4 per cent a year improvement now needed to hit their targets.
Mr Blunkett said 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