As the election looms, we publish extracts from chief inspector Chris Woodhead's annual report on the standards of our schools
There has been little change in the pattern of pupils' overall achievement in primary schools from last year. Pupils in general make a good start to their primary education. The weakest achievement occurs in Years 3 and 4 of key stage 2.
Standards in English at KS2 are good in half of schools, but continue to be poor in a worrying proportion of about one in seven schools. In mathematics the finding that one in six schools has poor standards at KS2 is a cause for concern. There is, however, an indication of some improvement in science.
In general, standards are better in Key Stage 1 than KS2. The dip in KS2 identified in last year's annual report persists. Achievement is weakest in Years 3 and 4. There is some pick-up in Years 5 and 6.
There are significant variations between subjects. There are more schools with good standards in English, music and physical education than in other subjects. Standards are frequently low in information technology and design and technology.
In English, standards are very similar to last year. Too many children continue to leave their primary schools poorly equipped with the essential skills of reading and writing.
In maths, standards in number are good in about half of primary schools, but are poor in one in seven in KS2. Standards in shape and space and data handling are generally higher than those in number. In KS2, pupils spend too much time repeating work that they have already mastered. There are indications that standards in secondary schools have gradually improved over the three years of the inspection cycle.
At both Key Stages 3 and 4, just over one-third of schools has no subjects where standards are poor, just under one-third has one poor subject, and the remaining third of schools has two or more poor subjects.
Overall standards are judged by inspectors to be good in about three-fifths of secondary schools.
In English, standards are generally good in speaking and listening, but too many pupils find it difficult to concentrate when listening. By KS4 most pupils have read and appreciated works from a range of genres and periods and can discuss plot, characterisation and structure, although too many pupils read little for pleasure. The weakest aspect of English in both key stages is writing.
In science at KS3, pupils generally make good gains in scientific knowledge but in about one-quarter of schools they spend too much time repeating content learned in primary schools.
Standards in information technology have fallen in KS3 and 4. This is associated with an increase in timetabled information technology. Part of the problem is that these lessons are often taught by non-specialist teachers with an uncertain grasp of the subject. In KS4, fewer pupils are taking an accredited information technology course.
There is a marked improvement in design and technology to both KS3, where the revised national curriculum has had a beneficial impact, and in KS4, where teachers have become more familiar with examination syllabuses. Pupils develop a good variety of practical skills and work confidently, if not always with precision and imagination.
In most other subjects pupils make better progress in KS4 than in KS3.
Standards are good in one-third of special schools but too low in one-quarter. There are differences between types of school. Standards in most schools for pupils with sensory impairment and physical disability are good, but in almost half of schools for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties standards need to be substantially improved. These findings are similar to those of last year.
The annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools Standards and Quality in Education 199596 is available from The Stationery Office Limited, and from The Publications Centre, PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT. Price Pounds 8.80