Stephen Byers' letter of March 6 claims The TES front-page story of February 27 is "grossly misleading" for suggesting that primary teachers are not failing to teach the basics in reading and writing and that it is "stunningly complacent" to suggest standards are acceptable because 95 per cent of 11-year-olds achieve level 3 in English.
In 1997 94 per cent achieved level 3 or above in reading. The specification for level 3, according to the 1995 national curriculum Orders, is as follows: "Pupils read a range of texts fluently and accurately. They read independently, using strategies appropriate to establish meaning. In responding to fiction and non-fiction they show understanding of the main points and express preferences. They use their knowledge of the alphabet to locate books and find information."
This is clearly mastery of the basics in reading. However, Mr Byers' claims that: "Level 3 is the performance expected of nine-year-olds and falls far short of levels of literacy demanded at secondary level."
The attainment targets in the 1995 National Curriculum Order set no expectations for nine-year-olds. It says: "By the end of key stage 1, the performance of the great majority of pupils should be within the range of levels 1 to 3; by the end of key stage 2 it should be within the range of 2 to 5 and by the end of key stage 3 within the range 3 to 7."
The wisdom of the Government's own target of 80 per cent Level 4 or better in English is questionable since it excludes the bottom 20 per cent of pupils from any attainment whatsoever - and so does nothing to ensure the 6 per cent or so of pupils who do not currently master the basics will reach Level 3. Attention is more likely to be given to those on the borderline of levels 3 and 4 to achieve the target.
The English target for 2002 is not "by any standards, an ambitious one", as Mr Byers claims. If the annual increase in the proportion attaining Level 4 or better for the past two years were sustained it would be 100 per cent by 2002.
BM Bell London WC1