More than half of 11-year-olds failed to reach Government targets in the first national tests for the age group, results published yesterday show.
The figures throw doubt on school standards for seven- to 11-year-olds. Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, said: "It is not good enough."
Labour used the results to regain some of the ground lost on education over Harriet Harman's decision to send her son to a selective school. Tony Blair, the Labour leader, said the results were "an absolute disaster for the future of this country" which showed the necessity for a change of education policy.
He clashed with the Prime Minister in the Commons, where he blamed the results on 17 years of Tory rule. John Major accepted the results were disappointing but pointed out that Mr Blair had voted against the introduction of national tests for seven-, 11- and 14-year-olds.
"If it is the Conservative Government that has failed, perhaps you can explain why some of your friends remove their children from Labour education authorities and have them educated under Conservative ones," he said.
Mrs Shephard blamed the overloaded curriculum and pointed out that it will be slimmed down to concentrate on literacy and numeracy from September. Standards would improve, she suggested, asschools got used to the tests.
Teachers said next year's results would be better because schools would spend hours coaching their pupils and revising for the tests. Today's 11-year-olds are not used to formal tests. The results for the 600,000 11-year-olds showed that 52 per cent failed to reach the expected standard in English and 56 per cent failed to do so in maths. In science 70 per cent reached the required standard.
National tests were taken last spring and summer by two million seven, 11 and 14-year-olds. Results for seven-year-olds were better with more than three-quarters reaching or exceeding expected standards in English, maths and science. Just over half 14-year-olds reached or exceeded expected standards in the three areas.
Mrs Shephard said: "These tests and the fact 90 per cent of our 7-, 11- and 14-year-olds took the tests for the first time are a very important part of our standards strategy in schools."
Professor Michael Barber, dean of London University's Institute of Education, said: "We do have reason to be very worried about standards of literacy and numeracy. This isn't teacher-bashing. As a society we expect too little of children at the age of 11. International comparisons bear this out."
Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "Teachers will be very depressed by both Mr Blair and Mrs Shephard. You will get big improvements next year because of a very narrow focus on teaching to the test. It will not raise standards. It is a disaster for education."
Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The Government must accept that over-crowded primary classes, lack of resources and a nine-subject curriculum are taking their toll on these children."Reuse content