English scores for 11-year-olds are set to rise for the first time in four years, a TES survey of more than 160,000 pupils reveals.
Provisional results from one in four councils indicate English scores have risen by 1 percentage point, while maths has stalled and science fallen.
More pupils, though, have reached the higher level 5 in maths and science and almost one in three pupils is now two years ahead of the expected level in maths.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The rise is down to heads and teachers breaking free of some of the shackles of the national literacy strategy."
But the predicted breakthrough in results, due to be published next week, is still not enough to reach any of the Government's targets for 2002, let alone the targets originally set for this year.
Ministers wanted 85 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the expected level 4 and 35 per cent to reach level 5 in English and maths by 2004. But after failing to reach its 2002 targets, the 2004 targets were made an aspiration for 2006.
The TES survey is based on responses from 38 English councils. If its findings are repeated nationally, the percentage of 11-year-olds reaching level 4 in English will be 76 per cent, up from 75 per cent last year, while 26 per cent will achieve level 5. In maths, 73 per cent will reach level 4, the same proportion as last year, while 31 per cent will gain level 5.
The rise will be seen as vindication of the new primary national strategy, brought in after concerns that a continuing focus on English and maths would not shift scores. The strategy endorsed moves by schools to introduce topics and bring in outside expertise.
At key stage 3, the survey indicates results for 14-year-olds in maths will rise from 70 per cent reaching level 5 to 71 per cent, but results in science will drop from 68 to 65 per cent.
The provisional results show English scores have stalled at 68 per cent reaching level 5, but a marking crisis this year means current English scores are less reliable than the maths and science results.
Government statisticians have said the KS3 English data is not yet ready to be published along with the other national test statistics on Tuesday.
If the survey's findings are repeated nationally, all targets for 14-year-olds will be missed, echoing the prediction of David Bell, chief inspector, who has said English targets are unlikely to be met.
The Government wanted 75 per cent of 14-year-olds to achieve level 5 in English and maths and 70 per cent in science by 2004.
Additional reporting: Patrick Hayes