Three Rs progress 'no better than satisfactory'

Polly Curtis, education correspondent
Tuesday February 22, 2005

The Guardian

The government's flagship literacy and numeracy lessons for primary schools have made "significant improvements" in the past year but one in three lessons are still no better than satisfactory, the schools watchdog, Ofsted, said today.

The daily mathematics lesson and literacy hour, which was introduced soon after Labour came to power in 1997, saw initial rapid improvement literacy and numeracy skills but since 2000 those improvements have stalled, leaving leading educationalists predicting that the scheme's benefit has reached its limit.

But last year 78% of pupils reached Level 4 - the expected level for their ages - or above in English and 74% reached Level 4 or above in mathematics.

David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, said today: "There have been significant improvements in literacy and numeracy standards since the introduction of the national strategies. This is something that must be applauded."

However, he added that other schools did not "have the confidence" to make the strategy as successful as it could be.

Inspectors found that although teaching in English and mathematics was improving, there were still concerns that some teachers did not have the necessary subject knowledge. As teachers focus on professional development in more specialist subjects such as science and religious education they are falling behind in more key subjects.

Mr Bell added: "I am very pleased to see that, following the plateau in standards at the end of Key Stage 2, standards have now begun to rise. Some schools are beginning to embrace change and to explore greater flexibility within their curriculum.

"But others do not yet have the confidence to embrace the Primary National Strategy in ways that will build on the progress made to date and use it to continue to improve excellence in teaching and pupils' enjoyment of learning.

"There are still schools where children are not receiving the daily diet of good teaching that they need in order to raise achievement further."

Schools minister Derek Twigg said: "Results in Key Stage 2 (age 11) attainment tests in English have gone up by 13 percentage points and in mathematics by 15 percentage points.

"This means that more children than ever are reaching the expected standard in English and maths. These results show that having consolidated high standards over recent years, we now have a strong platform to build on."

The Statistics Commission warned ministers last week that the rise in primary school test scores "substantially overstates" the actual improvement in standards. The watchdog said ministers "needed to be made fully aware of any caveats" about the interpretation of test scores.

The shadow education secretary, Tim Collins, said: "The fact that at least one in three primary pupils go on to their senior school without being able to write properly is one of the single biggest failings of eight years of Labour government.

"Ruth Kelly and her predecessors have managed to get so hung-up on their departmental target culture that they have lost sight of the underlying problem of classroom literacy and numeracy.

"The Conservatives will ensure parents have the choice of sending their children to schools where traditional approaches to literacy have been adopted."

 Full text

Ofsted report: The national literacy and numeracy strategies and the primary curriculum (pdf)

 Recent news

09.02.2004: Literacy support helps trailing pupils
03.02.2004: No 10 ponders new literacy strategy
03.02.2004: Reform on cards for literacy initiative

 Useful links

Department for Education and Skills: literacy strategy
Department for Education and Skills: numeracy strategy