Leading article: Could do better

Ms Morris's resignation in 2002 has left the impression of failure, when what had in fact happened was more a success story. The same impression is created when ministers acknowledge - as they must - that they have even less chance of meeting their second target of 85 per cent in each subject by next year .

It is worth remembering, however, that in the 50 years between the end of the Second World War and the mid-Nineties there was no discernible rise in children's reading standards in primary schools at all. Now, even the critical report published yesterday by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers concedes that there has been some improvement.

This does not mean that the report's reservations should be dismissed. Charging that ministers' claims of improved standards are exaggerated, it says that at least some of the improvement has been achieved by teachers "teaching to the test" and is not sustained into secondary schooling. It also says that the great significance attached to the tests now that primary school performance tables are published has led to some markers being more lenient with pupils.

Nevertheless, this report - written by Professor Colin Richards, formerly an adviser with Ofsted, the standards watchdog - concludes there has been a modest improvement in reading and a significant improvement in maths in the last part of the last decade.

It would be churlish not to welcome this. But it would be equally churlish not to recognise that more needs to be done, particularly in the area of writing, where 45 per cent of boys still fail to reach the required standard. More effort also needs to be made to ensure that the gains made in the primary sector do not dissipate when pupils transfer to secondary school.

The Government has introduced extra catch-up classes for those still struggling to read, write and add up in secondary schools. Maybe it also needs to support the concept of extra keep-up classes for those who have just reached the required standard, but need more help if they are to advance.