Standard raising at 11 runs out of puff

Ministers seek new inspiration as literacy and numeracy targets prove unattainable. Julie Henry reports

A RETHINK of the literacy and numeracy strategies has been ordered by the Government's new standards guru as test results for 11-year-olds are expected to show the initiatives have run out of steam.

Professor David Hopkins, head of the Department for Education and Skills standards unit, is due to hold a meeting early next month to explore ways of kick-starting primary achievement.

The brainstorming session will follow the publication of the key stage 2 results for 11-year-olds next week. They are expected to rise but fail to meet government targets on which former education secretary David Blunkett staked his career - 80 per cent of pupils are supposed to reach level 4 in English and 75 per cent in maths.

Last year's results stalled and were described as "disappointing" by ministers. The halt in achievement backs primary headteachers' claims that many schools have gone as far as they can. Teachers are unhappy with "totally unrealistic" 2004 targets which expect 85 per cent of pupils to reach the level 4 milestone in maths and English.

Steven Anwyll, head of the literacy strategy, admitted last year that the targets were a huge challenge which would not be achieved unless the initiative was re-energised.

The Government's own evaluation of the strategies identified teaching to the test as a widespread problem which mitigates against more "deep-seated" learning. Tim Coulson, head of the numeracy strategy, has criticised schools for reducing maths lessons to test practice and refining test techniques.

An insider said: "It is obvious that the directors of the strategy have to do something. It cannot be just more of the same, the recipe has got to be changed."

One suggestion is a focus on thinking skills, which would move away from the present concentration on English, maths and science. Thinking skills are based on the psychology of learning. They involve a variety of methods but all encourage pupils to grasp a topic at a deeper level than simply recalling information.

The Government funded an international thinking skills conference this summer and the techniques play a large part in the new key stage 3 strategy designed to raise achievement in secondary schools.

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