Pupils are still underachieving as they move through the primary years into secondary, according to the latest survey of 5-14 attainment levels. But pupil performance at key stages did improve in the year to June 2000 in reading, writing and mathematics.
The figures, significantly, do not set performance against targets. Jack McConnell, the Education MInister, has said he wants "year on year improvements" for pupils rather than detailed controls from the centre.
The Minister will rely instead on the local authorities' improvement plans and schools' development plans which are legally obliged to be in line with national educational priorities.
The 5-14 statistics therefore contain good news and bad news for Ministers. They do show year-on-year improvements. Pupils who attained the right levels for their stages at P4, P7 and S2 did better in each of the "3Rs" last year. In P4, for example, those at level B in reading rose from 71 per cent to 75 per cent, in writing from 60 per cent to 67 per cent and in maths from 72 per cent to 73 per cent.
But this is as good as it gets. The figures confirm previous HMI reports and assessment surveys - performance falls off in upper primary and gets even worse in early secondary.
The P4 figures compare with 66 per cent of P7 pupils attaining level D and 53 per cent of S2 pupils reaching level E in reading, 53 per cent of P7 pupils getting level D and 44 per cent of S2 pupils at level E in writing, and 64 per cent of P7 pupils at level D and 47 per cent of S2 pupils achieving level E in maths.
The national average of 66 per cent of P7 pupils who are at level D in reading, moreover, ranges from 79 per cent in East Dunbartonshire to 58 per cent in Clackmannanshire and Dundee.
Nicol Stephen, the deputy Education Minister, found the survey "extremely encouraging". But he said it also showed that "local authorities must set challenging objectives in their improvement plans".