Ministers will not discount absentees when attempting to hit their literacy targets. Nor will they remove pupils with learning difficulties from their figures.
Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, said that 80 per cent of all 11-year-olds should be reading and writing at level 4 by 2002.
This is despite the fact that as many as 7 per cent of last summer's 11-year-olds did not even take the English tests.
At least 3 per cent were counted as "absent" while 4 per cent were not entered in the first place. Many of these will have special educational needs, often functioning at level 2.
In a letter to The TES this week, Mr Byers reveals that 68 per cent of all 11-year-olds hit level 4 in reading and 54 per cent in writing.
But when the absentees and children with special needs are removed, the success rate increases to 72 per cent for reading and 58 per cent for writing.
Letters, page 23