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Leading article: Time to go back to basics

Whatever spin teachers, educators and politicians put on the results of the latest primary school tests one thing is clear. One in three 11-year-olds – that is 183,000 boys and girls – failed to achieve the basic skills in reading, writing and maths that they will they need to benefit from the secondary education they will begin in September.

This week's results show a slight improvement – with 67 per cent, as against 64 per cent last year, achieving the desired standard. But the percentage failing remains stubbornly similar. A variety of initiatives have been tried but they have produced little real change over the last five years. Indeed things are getting worse in schools in poorer areas, though results in middle-class areas disguise that in the overall figures.

There has also been a disturbing drop in pupils achieving top marks. And the number of boys and girls receiving the top mark for reading is down by 8 per cent. Schools are failing to stretch the brightest pupils as teachers concentrate on getting the average pupils to the required standard level. And education in the final year of primary school is being narrowed by the exams as teachers drill pupils to pass the test.

The one strategy which made a clear difference was David Blunkett's literacy and numeracy hours. This was dropped because it was deemed that progress was being made. Not enough. Those specialist hours need to be introduced in schools that do not do well in the new reading tests which are to be introduced at age six.

For one in ten of boys who leave primary school to have the reading age of a seven-year-old, as at present, is simply a national disgrace.