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Leading article: Nothing for Mr Balls to boast about

This year's SATs results have provided a sorry spectacle. From last month's shambles over marking to this week's release of provisional results for primary schools before all pupils had their scores, we have watched a sequence of unadulterated incompetence and buck-passing. The statement by the ponderously named Secretary for Children, Schools and Families in the Commons, on the last working day before the recess, was a classic of bureaucratic obfuscation. Everyone had a part in what had happened, and no one. And if anyone was the teeniest bit accountable, it certainly wasn't the Secretary of State, Ed Balls.

Mr Balls, who had worn the cloak of invisibility in the weeks before that statement, had donned it again by the time the provisional results were released. It was left to the Schools minister Jim Knight to insist that he had confidence in the results, despite the problems. With more than 90 per cent of tests marked, he said, the results were "statistically reliable".

Reliable they may be, but that does not make them any more consoling for the parents of those children attending primary school in England. Although there has been a small – 1 percentage point – rise in overall attainment in maths and English, there are several areas of concern. There is still a clear disparity between the results for boys and girls, and the proportion of pupils achieving the highest grade has actually fallen. If this is, as some hazard, because teachers are concentrating on those borderline pupils whose failure would bring down the school's ranking, then this is another malign effect of league tables.

More troubling, though, is the proportion of 11-year-olds who still do not make the grade at all. Only 61 per cent of pupils leave primary school having reached the required standard in all three subjects – maths, English and science. One in five fails either maths or English, and writing is a particular area of concern. These are not results that any developed country should take pride in. They mean that a large number of children arrive at secondary school ill-equipped to cope. This is little short of a national scandal – and Mr Balls should be saying what he proposes to do about it.