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Scores leap in KS3 pilot

Early signs suggest that the new national drive to raise standards at 11-14 will succeed, reports Julie Henry

SCHOOLS in the vanguard of the Government's drive to raise standards in the early secondary years have seen a jump in test results.

But efforts to help 12-year-olds who had fallen behind at primary school catch up have had a "disappointing" impact.

A total of 205 schools in 17 local education authorities have been piloting the key stage 3 strategy for a year. The initiative is an attempt to replicate the sucesss of the primary literacy and numeracy strategies English and maths lessons have been revamped and teachers have received extra training. Science teaching has also been restructured since January.

The strategy concentrates on the first two years of secondary school but many schools have also run booster classes for Year 9 pupils. As a result this summer's test scores for 14-year-olds have surged, according to authorities involved in the pilot.

Julia Morrison, Gateshead KS3 strategy adviser, said: "Our national curriculum test results have improved across the board, with quite significant increases in maths and science. A number of schools have shown big improvements. The general feeling is very positive."

In Nottinghamshire, 12 out of 14 schools met challenging Department for Education and Skills test targets. Some schools improved by 10 to 15 percentage points. At one school the proportion of teenagers who reached the expected level in English jumped from 37 to 60 per cent.

Pilot schools have also put Year 7 pupils through optional tests. A number of authorities said the results werepromising.

However one vital element of the Government's bid to boost attainment - catch-up classes and progress tests for the less able - fared less well.

Twelve-year-olds who just failed to reach level 4 at primary school have had extra support. But this summer's test results show the majority of them have still not made the grade. In one authority, only a fifth of these targeted pupils reached level 4 in maths. At one school in North Lincolnshire just one of 12 pupils reached the level.

In some cases "catch-up" pupils who failed progress tests passed optional tests - raising questions over whether the latter are too easy.

Some LEAs said that catch-up classes had been hampered by the late arrival of teaching materials. But the poor results were also seen as proof that, for some pupils, the gap between level 3 and 4 is insurmountable.

The DFES has given a cautious welcome to the pilot results. A spokeswoman said: "Informal feedback suggests pilots are doing well but drawing conclusions from a small number of results would be speculative."

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