There is much for ministers and teachers to be proud of in this year's Sats results. Above all, the finding that schools in deprived areas have made the greatest progress should warm everyone's hearts, and boost Labour's credentials as a party committed to equality. Meanwhile, results have gone up in key stage 2 and 3 maths, and in English at 11. The deadlock of stalled KS2 statistics has finally been broken. But as National Union of Teachers leader Steve Sinnott says: "Instead of celebrating primary schools' achievement in numeracy and literacy, the target system has meant the Government has shot itself in the foot."
Press coverage, including in The TES (see page 3), has inevitably focused on the failure to meet Government targets for 2002 and 2004, and the unlikelihood that they can be reached in 2006. The extraordinarily good results in junior science have been sustained for so long (this year they "dropped" to 86 per cent), that no one even bothers to comment on this achievement any more.
But what does it all mean? It means that raising the achievement of a nation's children is very difficult, and only happens in small increments.
There is no formula to guarantee success. Some primary schools are beginning to loosen up, trying to be more creative and individual in their thinking. Has this helped raise Sat scores? There is a growing emphasis on thinking and learning skills in the primary sector. Will this trend push scores increasingly upward? Is the pressure to teach to the test so destructive that it is holding results back? In Wales, they believe this so strongly that they are scrapping Sats altogether. It could also be why most English local authorities say they will not meet the Government's targets for introducing modern languages into primary schools by 2010 (see page 1).
If the Government decides it is truly committed to primary languages, then it must make them compulsory - or provision nationally will be a ragbag - and it must ease the pressure to hit English and maths targets.