Head demands a review of written results
Schools recorded their best key stage 3 maths and science test results for 14-year-olds this year, but English marks fell for the first time since 1999.
The tests, taken by 600,000 teenagers in England this year, showed boys fared far worse than girls when it came to literacy and failed to narrow the gap in maths or science. A total of 77 per cent of pupils gained the expected level 5 or above in key stage 3 maths, 72 per cent in science and 72 per cent in English.
The maths and science score rose by 3 and 2 percentage points respectively compared with last year, but English declined by 2 per cent.
The results mean the Government is almost certain to fail in its target for next summer when it expects 85 per cent of pupils to achieve level 5 in English, 85 per cent in maths and 80 per cent in science.
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, believed the drop in English could be attributed to a lack of reading at home.
He said: "The impact of peer pressure, technological innovation and just being a teenager in an ever changing world is leading to pupils reading less and less.
"If these factors are to be countered and the reading habit, with its benefits for good English, is to be developed in our young people, it also must be part of their parents' culture."
Anne Barnes, education officer for the National Literacy Association, however, thought the results reflected bad assessment, not necessarily falling standards.
She said: "You are almost always likely to be penalised for original thought in English simply because you are not writing what the marking guide states.
"The marking of English is totally unsatisfactory. It produces widely obscured and off-target results. The whole system of assessing English needs to be radically revised." Simon Gibbons, chairman of the 9-14 committee at the National Association for the Teaching of English, agrees.
He said: "There is a history of these tests being poorly marked. They are only a snapshot of what a pupil can do."
He felt teacher assessment should be used over and above the test results.
The Government meanwhile remained concerned. Jim Knight, schools minister, said: "We cannot afford to be complacent and need to redouble our efforts to reverse this next year."
* 72 per cent of 14-year-olds reached level five: 80 per cent for girls, 65 per cent for boys, down two points overall from last year Reading
* 66 per cent made the grade: 74 per cent for girls and 59 per cent for boys, down two points overall from 2005 Writing
* 76 per cent achieved level five : 83 per cent for girls and 69 per cent for boys, no change from last year Maths
* 77 per cent reached level five: 77 per cent for girls, 76 per cent for boys, an increase of three points from 2005 Science
* 72 per cent achieved the expected level : 73 per cent for girls, 71 per cent for boys, up by two points from last year