PRIMARY pupils have recorded their best-ever English and maths results, according to a TES survey.
Results from a sample of 88 schools show a rise of five percentage points in English and one percentage point in maths. If this increase is replicated nationally, it would mean 80 per cent of 11-year-olds achieved level 4 English this year and 74 per cent in maths.
The exam format changed this year - maths and science papers included more problem-solving. In English, pupils had to complete two compulsory pieces of writing: a story about a boy queuing for a game and a radio jingle for a toy.
Despite the overall rise indicated in English scores, the gap between reading and writing has grown.
The poll found an average gap between reading and writing scores of 22 percentage points. In 2002, there was a 20-point difference between the two scores.
The writing task has been criticised as too dull to inspire good stories and heads say it seemed harder to gain the higher level 5.
Some children have been graded as level 5 in reading, the ability expected at 13 years old, but have got a grade "n" in writing which is the standard expected of infants.
Children's laureate Michael Morpurgo, who took the test for The TES, said the tasks were enormously difficult, and author Philip Pullman has also been scathing. He said: "It was very boring - a task of stupendous futility."
The schools polled had an average English target of 82 per cent and together they achieved that average grade. They scored two percentage points higher than the 75 per cent national average last year.
Denise Assid, head of St Andrew's Catholic primary, Streatham, said: "We cried over the writing. Our reading was brilliant but we felt that writing was so unfair we had children with level 3 in writing and level 5 in reading.
"The Queue (the title of the exercise) really put off our high-flyers."
In maths, the polled schools had an average target of 82 per cent but fell short of this by four percentage points, scoring 78 per cent.
Meirion Williams, head of Coleshill Heath primary, Birmingham, said: "The timing of the maths had an effect on pupils. Traditionally, it was the first test of the Sats week; this year it was the last. The mental maths knocked them for six and they did not recover in time for the other maths papers."
Officials have been accused of tinkering with the tests by lowering the threshold for level 4 to 44 marks from 49 in 2002. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said the thresholds were changed to reflect the difference in difficulty of the questions each year.
Last year, the Government failed to reach its targets of 80 per cent in English and 75 per cent in maths.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke has already announced that the 2004 targets of 85 per cent in both subjects would be downgraded to an aspiration and put back two years to 2006. One in three schools polled said they will not meet their 2004 maths target, one in four say they will fall short in English.
Additional reporting by James Sturcke, Emily Clark and Genevra Fletcher Primary Forum, 18