An interim evaluation of the initiative by the Office for Standards in Education, based on visits to 300 schools last autumn, warns of problems in the first two junior years. It discloses that just 58 per cent of nine-year-olds reach level 3 by the end of Year 4 - the halfway point in the key stage.
Boys do slightly better than girls, children on free school meals achieve less well and black Caribbean and African pupils under-perform relative to white pupils.
Ministers expect 75 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach level 4 at key stage 2 by 2002 and inspectors insist that poor progress across Years 3 and 4 must be addressed now by the numeracy strategy.
And they warn that the bigger challenge lies in ensuring that the majority of borderline seven-year-olds reach the standard by 11.
They say there has been a good start to the numeracy strategy. The daily maths lessons last at least an hour and consist of an oral and mental section, main teaching activities and a plenary session.
Inspectors said the quality of teaching was good in half the lessons they observed. The most effective elemet was the mental work. Pupils' recall of number facts had become accurate and faster and their attitude to maths was almost invariably positive.
Children were confident with addition and subtraction but too many had difficulties with multiplication and division.
Questions on fractions and decimals also caused problems. About a quarter of the lessons involving 10 and 11-year-olds included calculator-use, half of which inspectors deemed inappropriate. Many teachers lacked confidence in using calculators as a teaching aid.
The report can be downloaded from the OFSTED website: www.ofsted.gov.uk OFSTED is based at Alexandra House, 33 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6SE. Tel. 020 7421 6800.
Simple addition and subtraction
Reading information from a table
Multiplication and division
Interpreting information from tables
Ordering three-digit numbers
Addition, doubling and simple multiplication
Decimals and fractions
money and shopping problems
Addition of one and two-digit numbers to 1,000
Multiplication of decimals
Converting fractions and decimals