THE CHILDREN who hold the fate of the Education Secretary in their hands will have to make rapid progress in English and maths if the Government is to hit its national targets for 2002.
The latest figures suggest that less than two-thirds of the children due to take tests in 2002 can confidently be expected to reach the required standard for 11-year-olds in reading and maths, and fewer than half are predicted to achieve the same standard in writing.
David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, has staked his job on 80 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching level 4 in English and 75 per cent in maths.
The projected figures are derived by discounting seven-year-olds who only scraped a key stage 1 level 2 - the expected standard - in 1998. Government advisers have told schools that many such children are unlikely to hit the target four years later.
However, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, drawing on results for optional tests taken by pupils aged eight to ten, emphasises that some children achieving level 2C at seven will hit the targets for 11-year-olds. Nor does the analysis take into account the faster improvement expected when the literacy and numeracy strategies are fully implemented.
The QCA believes the targets are ambitious, but achievable.
"The figures cannot take account of the acceleration in the rate of progress the Government expects to see over the next few years," said David Hawker, head of assessment at QCA.
Schools are aware that the writing target is the furthest away. Advice has been sent on providing extra help, particularly for boys.
Further evidence of the gap that schools must bridge is contained in optional test results. The QCA figures suggest that only 53 per cent of ten-year-olds are predicted to achieve the accepted standard in maths by the year 2000 and only 63 per cent in English.
The analysis also suggests that schools need to focus on progress by children in the middle juniors - those aged eight and nine.