They said, however, that overall standards in the three subjects are being maintained or improving in primary and secondary schools. In maths they are rising, with three- quarters of lessons satisfactory or better, compared with two- thirds last year, the report from the Office for Standards in Education says.
The inspectors who looked at the three main national curriculum subjects found that much needed to be done to improve the writing of pupils of all ages.
Their report, based on evidence from 7,000 lessons, suggests that the teaching of reading to top juniors is less efficient than for younger pupils. 'Some pupils become frustrated and not enough progress is made.'
The teaching of writing to this age group is also worse than for infants. Standards are depressed 'by excessive copying and lack of demand for sustained, independent and extended writing'.
Handwriting, the inspectors suggest, could be improved if schools taught joined-up writing to younger children instead of waiting until they are eight.
They record that the 'misguided reluctance on the part of some teachers to correct pupils' errors and be sufficiently critical in appraising their work' has not changed.
In secondary schools, reading standards were satisfactory but schools were poor at diagnosing the problems of poor readers.
Speaking and listening among those aged five to seven is getting better and 88 per cent of lessons satisfactory, an increase of 8 per cent on last year.
In maths, standards for seven- to 11-year-olds were a 'matter of concern', with some pupils being too slow at mental arithmetic and others working from a textbook without understanding.
In science, pupils' knowledge and understanding was sound, though primary teachers were still having difficulty in assessing their pupils. Standards were similar to those in previous years and about three- quarters of lessons were satisfactory.
Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, said standards in the three subjects were maintained or improved compared with the previous year. 'However, it was clear that there is still much room for improvement, particularly for pupils aged seven to 11.'
Mathematics: key stages 1,2,3 and 4. English: key stages 1,2,3 and 4 and Science: key stages 1,2,3 and 4; from HMSO.