SECONDARY headteachers have been told by the Government to learn from the success of primary schools and improve 14-year-olds' performance.
Education Secretary David Blunkett said they must capitalise on the achievements of primary schools where more 11-year-olds reached expected standards in key stage 2 tests last year than ever before.
Mr Blunkett has taken what he admits is the unusual step of writing to every headteacher in England about raising standards in secondary education.
Performance at key stage 3 is central to ministers' wider objectives for secondaries.
Latest figures on last summer's exams suggest that 2002 targets for 16-year-olds - that half get five good GCSE passes and 95 per cent at least one - should be met.
Ministers will consult later this year on targets in English, maths and science for 14-year-olds in tests from 2002.
The Government is also looking at radical approaches to improve performance such as starting KS3 in the last term of primary and exchanging staff between the two sectors.
In his letter to heads, Mr Blunkett says: "I know that secondary heads and teachers already recognise that much more progress needs to be made in these crucial early years of education.
"Those who have seen literacy hours and daily maths lessons being taught will also appreciate how much there s to be learnt from their primary colleagues."
His comments sparked immediate concerns from heads. One, Kate Griffin, head of Greenford high, Ealing, said: "I wasn't sure what he expected us to do, but I would be appalled if it meant us introducing a numeracy and literacy hour."
Leaders of the two heads' unions this week cautioned against the Government piling more pressure on secondaries.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It takes time to move mountains in terms of standards."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, added: "We have no problem in raising achievement of 14-year-olds, but the fact is secondary schools don't give the same recognition to KS3 results as they do to GCSE and A-level."
In his letter to headteachers, Mr Blunkett also apologises for the "rough justice" in the way the Budget windfall cash was doled out to schools, but says "the simplest way of ensuring speedy and manageable allocations to schools" had been chosen.
Primaries got between pound;3,000 and pound;9,000 depending on how many pupils they have under Gordon Brown's pound;1 billion boost for education. Special schools received pound;15,000 and secondaries between pound;30,000 and pound;50,000. There has been outrage in England and Wales over the allocations as some large primaries are bigger than the smallest secondaries.
Research focus, 27