targets look out of reach. Helen Ward reports
National test results for 11-year-olds in England have risen for the second year running as day-to-day teaching has been freed from central control.
Results released this week showed a 1 point increase in the percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard in English and maths, although boys actually fell back in writing.
The figures show that in English 79 per cent of children reached level 4 and 75 per cent did so in maths, although only 70 per cent reached level 4 in both subjects.
The results were hailed by the Government as a "record", but the small increase makes it unlikely that Labour will meet its target of 85 per cent of pupils reaching level 4 in both subjects next year.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that the targets were unreasonable and should be scrapped.
The continued rise in results comes after the Government urged schools to broaden their curriculum amid fears that a relentless emphasis on literacy and numeracy had started to demotivate teachers and pupils.
Jacqui Smith, the schools minister, congratulated pupils and teachers for their hard work and said two programmes which focused on the lowest-attaining 5,000 schools were key to the boost in results.
The primary leadership programme - in which successful headteachers go into neighbouring schools to support them - and the intensifying support programme - which provides training in areas such as target-setting - are to be extended.
Estelle Morris resigned as education secretary after schools failed to meet the 2002 primary targets.
When asked if she would resign if the next year's targets were not met, Ms Smith said: "I'm in this job to make a difference to children's lives and to make sure there is a continued improvement in standards."
This week's results show that in science, more pupils reached the higher level 5, although there was no improvement in the proportion reaching level 4.
Boys narrowed the gap in reading, but have fallen further behind in writing.
* 87 per cent of girls reached level 4 this year and last year.
* 82 per cent of boys reached level 4 this year, compared with 79 per cent last year.
* 72 per cent of girls reached level 4 this year, compared with 71 per cent last year.
* 55 per cent of boys reached level 4 this year, a 1 percentage-point drop on last year.
The proportion of pupils reaching the higher level 5 in English and maths remained unchanged at 27 per cent in English and 31 per cent in maths.
In science, 86 per cent of pupils reached level 4 - the same as last year - and there was a rise from 43 to 47 per cent in the proportion hitting level 5.
However government claims that the KS2 results demonstrate a leap in standards are increasingly under fire from academics.
Research for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers by Professor Colin Richards of St Martin's college, Lancaster, concluded that 11-year-olds had improved in English, maths and science between 1995 and 2001, but these improvements were not as great as the Government has claimed.
The Statistics Commission, Professor Peter Tymms at Durham university and Alf Massey of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate have all said that, although there has been some rise in English scores, the gains between 1995 and 2000 were not as great as stated (see opposite page).
In Wales, the KS2 national tests were made optional this year. But more than half of schools decided to run them as a way of assessing pupils.
These results are due to be published next month. A new system, which will rely on teacher assessment, is being set up.