Call for research to bridge the gender gap in writing
But it is the continuing gap between girls' and boys' writing that has led to one union leader calling for more research. There is a gap of 11 percentage points in key stage 1 scores for boys and girls. This year, 86 per cent of girls reached level 2 compared with 75 per cent of boys.
In 136 authorities, 80 per cent or more of girls reached the expected level, but only 20 authorities recorded four out of five boys or more at level 2.
Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said: "It does pose the question of whether the expected standards should be different at KS1 for boys and girls.
"It is dangerous territory, but perhaps there should be different expectations. It has been recognised for decades by researchers that boys develop more slowly in the early years."
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The issue of girls outperforming boys has come to the fore in these results. It is an issue that requires full and detailed research rather than allowing the problem to continue unexamined."
Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University questioned whether pupils at this age have the motor skills to write properly.
The overall results, based on teacher assessment, showed scores in reading, speaking and listening, maths and science stalled, while the percentage of pupils reaching level 2 in writing fell by 1 percentage point to 80 per cent.
Maths results were the highest, with 90 per cent of pupils reaching level 2, 87 per cent in speaking and listening, 84 per cent in reading.
More girls than boys reached the expected level 2 in speaking and listening, reading, writing, maths and science. But in maths 24 per cent of boys reached level 3 in maths and science, the standard expected at age nine. Only 20 per cent of girls reached this standard in maths and 22 per cent in science.
A drive to introduce synthetic phonics into all reception classes begins this term, with local authorities running training courses on the Government's phonics resource and guidance, Letters and Sounds. A review into early maths is also due to start this term.