A wide-ranging series of progress reports by the QCA has uncovered a serious weakness in teachers' expertise. Graeme Paton and Adi Bloom report
English teachers are using extracts of a novel or play at the expense of the whole text.
The QCA said the use of small extracts was an "on-going problem", particularly in secondary schools, limiting pupils' understanding of literature.
Even so, the watchdog said that at key stage 2 teachers were making greater use of whole texts, often as part of cross-curricular projects.
The watchdog said its English 21 project, which was launched last year to drive the future direction of the subject in schools, seemed to indicate the national curriculum did not require major revision.
But it highlighted a need to focus more on encouraging pupil creativity and ensuring that children take part in speaking and listening exercises.
During the past year, many pupils have continued to find it difficult to produce their best writing work without help from teachers. Many remain too dependent on pre-set structures, and have little opportunity to make their own choices.
Teachers found speaking and listening the most difficult aspect of the subject to cover effectively.
The QCA said it had found little evidence that these activities were being taught explicitly or securely assessed at key stages 1-3.
England's 10-year-olds have improved more in maths than those in other countries. Pre-school experience has a positive effect on later development and the national primary strategy has bolstered confidence, enjoyment and overall performance.
The strategy also improved teaching, but there is evidence of teaching to the test rather than for understanding.
Progress from KS2 to KS3 remains an issue, and testing in Y7 reflects secondaries' lack of confidence in KS2 results.
Secondary pupils and adult learners value maths but feel teaching does not match their learning styles. The adult curriculum fails to meet needs and teaching should be developed. At KS3 and 4, the curriculum still feels crowded and there are concerns over coursework and the amount of work in KS4. But teachers have reacted positively to the secondary strategies. They value pencil and paper tests and the extra materials available. Increased take-up of A-level maths was reported.
Primary pupils fail to understand the meaning of scientific terms while GCSE students find parts of the curriculum too demanding. The QCA said ignorance of websites and ICT was hindering science at all levels.
For younger pupils, staff shortages mean too little practical work. Most teachers were positive about primary national science, but felt there should not be a separate science strand. In primaries, limited access to ICT suites caused problems. At KS3, class size (typically 26-30) was blamed for making it too hard to do practical work. Only a quarter of 11 to 14-year-olds had the opportunity of an out-of-school visit, with administration and health and safety the reasons cited most often.
At KS4, coursework was seen by most as "inappropriate" and teachers felt there was sufficient scope for practical work in the single science award.
Early signs show most schools aim to extend the range of GSCE courses.