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Primary testing hits wall

English improves, but science stalls and maths worsens as fewer pupils gain top grades, TES survey reveals.

MORE 11-year-olds taking national tests have reached the target level in English than ever before, but the number gaining top grades has dropped, a TES survey covering more than 110,000 pupils reveals.

Results in English rose by just one percentage point, science results stalled and maths scores fell slightly, confirming ministers' fears that primary standards have reached a plateau. The Government had hoped to put its failure to meet the targets last year behind it. It put pound;11million into booster schools at Easter, and into training teachers and assistants.

The survey of 34 English authorities was made a week before ministers publish provisional results for seven, 11 and 14-year-olds. It suggests the proportion of 11-year-olds gaining level 4 will be 76 per cent in English, 72 per cent in maths and 86 per cent in science.

The percentage of 11-year-olds gaining the higher level 5 English fell in three out of four authorities surveyed, indicating that 27 per cent of pupils have gained this grade in 2003, down by two percentage points.

Targets of 85 per cent of 11-year-olds attaining level 4 and 35 per cent reaching level 5 have been put on hold until 2006.

But there is better news on test results for 14-year-olds, with English, maths and science scores all rising.

The TES survey suggests 69 per cent of 14-year-olds will reach the expected level 5 in English and science and 71 per cent in maths. Last year, 67 per cent of pupils reached level 5 in all three subjects.

This year's tests have been particularly controversial following changes to the papers. Calls for group re-marks of English papers have jumped fivefold at primary from last year. More than one in ten secondary schools has asked for group re-marks of English tests.

The provisional results do not include the results of all appeals.

The English test for primary pupils was criticised as bland by Michael Morpurgo, the children's laureate, while 14-year-olds were confused by being asked to do a piece of writing in the Shakespeare paper without having to refer to any of the Bard's plays.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said that both papers were more difficult than last year, and it lowered the pass marks.

Chris Davis, chair of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said:

"If results are again showing very little progress, despite the fact we know schools have been putting in a tremendous amount of time and effort, it does suggest perhaps a natural level has been reached and the targets of 85 per cent are unlikely to be reached."

Doug French, chairman of the Mathematical Association's teaching committee, said: "There is a limit to how far you can improve test scores." Angeles Walford, chair of the National Association of Head Teachers' primary committee, said the key stage 2 English paper was "horrendous". The Government's primary strategy, which recognises the problem of focusing too much on English and maths, may help, she believes.

"At least children will enjoy lessons a lot more. At the moment, we are just feeding them fodder and it is boring," she said.

* More than a quarter of teachers involved in school-based training felt ill-prepared to teach the national literacy and numeracy strategies, a Teacher Training Agency survey has found. And almost a third felt the same way about KS3 training. The results, based on returns from 751 Graduate Teacher Programme candidates, compare poorly with those on conventional university courses.

Additional reporting: Emily Clark, Genevra Fletcher and Karen Thornton.

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