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Literacy scores improve at last

After flatlining for years, English results at 11 are on the up, writes Helen Ward

Literacy test results for 11-year-olds look set to rise for the first time in four years, according to a TES survey.

The poll of 90 schools found maths results could also rise slightly, after last year's standstill.

With a general election looming, this year's results will be seen as a crucial test of the Labour Government's success in boosting children's literacy and numeracy.

On average, the schools surveyed saw the proportion of children getting the expected score in English and maths rise by three percentage points on last year. If that is repeated nationally, 78 per cent of pupils will hit the expected level 4 in English this year and the proportion hitting it in maths could rise from 73 to 76 per cent.

Pupils needed 41 marks out of 100 to get level 4 in English this year, compared to 44 last year. The level 4 maths threshold rose to 48 marks from 45. The threshold marks change each year to ensure standards stay the same.

The overall national results of the tests, taken in May, will not be released until August. But it seems they will fall far short of ministers' original targets for 2004 of 85 per cent of pupils reaching the expected level in English and maths. Ministers now say these targets are an aspiration for 2006.

In Wales, key stage 2 and 3 tests will be phased out over the next three years, after a review which said they narrow the curriculum.

John McNally, head of 760-pupil St Bernadette's Catholic primary, Birmingham, said: "What annoys me intensely is that children are now called by their levels, rather than John or Mary."

Sandra Marsden, head of Delaval primary, Newcastle, said: "Do we all have to get better and better until we pop? A child can only do their best.

"I have never met one parent who has chosen a school for their three-year-old on the basis of how 11-year-olds did the previous year - when their child was two."

The findings come as research reveals 53 per cent of teachers feel they are now drilling children for tests rather than helping them to become independent learners.

Provisional results from the Learning how to Learn study - by Cambridge, Reading and the Open universities, and King's College London - surveyed 558 teachers and found many unhappy with the way they have to teach.

Cambridge researcher Dr Mary James said: "The majority of teachers are struggling to promote independent learning, although they think it is important." She said curriculum pressures might be to blame.

Figures from the Department for Education and Skills show that schools predict the proportion hitting the expected level in 2005 will rise to 78 per cent in English and 80 per cent in maths.

In Wales, key stage 1 tests were dropped two years ago. From next year, Welsh staff will rely on their own assessments at key stage 2 with optional tests available until 2007 to help them.

Additional reporting by Joseph Lee, George Wright and Jennifer Hawkins

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