Primaries urged not to leave problems until Years 5 and 6. Jon Slater reports.
Primary and secondary schools are not doing enough to help pupils who struggle academically, allowing them to fall further behind their classmates, inspectors have found.
While the Government's primary strategy has a positive impact overall, the teaching of English and maths is no better than satisfactory in a third of lessons.
In an evaluation of the national strategies, Ofsted said primary schools leave it too late by focusing on children in Years 5 and 6 in an effort to improve their national test scores. Many schools do not identify and remedy problems early enough.
Secondaries, said the inspectors, do not do enough to help pupils who arrive with poor results in English and maths, while teaching of the 3Rs across the curriculum is weak. They said: "Progress with numeracy across the curriculum has stalled since its launch three years ago. Few schools give it a high priority and in most practice is unsatisfactory."
Examples of good practice identified by inspectors included Ridgewood school in Doncaster, where eight departments received numeracy training and then purchased mathematical dictionaries and class sets of calculators, compasses and protractors.
Despite training in literacy awareness, teachers of subjects other than English are failing to pay enough attention to spelling and grammar when they mark pupils' work.
The primary and secondary national strategies initially focused on literacy and numeracy, although they have been expanded to include other subjects.
The Government spends pound;1.3 billion on the primary and pound;650m on the secondary national strategy each year.
Overall, the secondary strategy had a positive impact, particularly in the two-thirds of schools with strong leadership, the report said.
But one in 10 of almost 180 schools visited by inspectors lacked commitment to the strategy and others - especially those with high staff turnover - struggled to keep up to date with its latest developments. Nearly a quarter of secondaries still do not receive adequate data on pupils' achievement when they arrive from primary school, although inspectors report gradual improvement in recent years.
The separate report on the primary national strategy said it has failed to eliminate the gender gap in writing. Almost half of boys do not reach the expected level in writing before they leave primary school, a situation described by inspectors as unacceptable.
Miriam Rosen, Ofsted director of education, said: "There is still much to be done to ensure all pupils leave primary school competent in reading, writing and mathematics."
The report called on primaries to make better use of data to identify underachievement. It said a fifth of the consultants appointed as part of the primary leadership programme to help low-attaining schools did not have the skills to do their job properly.
By contrast, results in schools involved in the intensifying support programme, which targets help at struggling schools, have risen faster than those elsewhere.
Ofsted inspectors found that most schools have continued with literacy and numeracy hours, despite being given greater freedom over their time.
Inspectors found that in some schools pupils were passive for too long in lessons, "particularly in over-long whole-class lessons".
They said the primary strategy had raised the profile of ICT as a teaching tool and that teachers' use of it to challenge and engage pupils' interest is improving.
The report will make interesting reading for Paul Wagstaff, who leaves Ofsted to take up his post as director of the national primary strategy in January.
Andrew Adonis, schools minister, said: "I welcome Ofsted's recognition that the national strategies for primary and secondary education are paying off.
But we are not complacent and are determined to reduce the number of children who do not reach their full potential."
KEY FINDINGS: OFSTED'S VERDICT ON THE NATIONAL STRATEGIES
* Schools place too much emphasis on Years 5 and 6 at the expense of early intervention to help struggling pupils.
* Key stage 2 targets agreed between schools and local authorities are optimistic.
* Assessment for learning is the least successful aspect of teaching.
* Primary leadership programme is hampered by poor skills of consultants and schools' resistance to change.
* Too little monitoring of pupil achievement in subjects other than English and maths.
* Results in schools that are part of the Intensifying Support Programme have improved faster than the national average.
* Insufficient help for children who leave primary school with poor literacy and numeracy skills.
* Too little stress on literacy and numeracy across the curriculum.
* Management of the strategy is unsatisfactory in one out of six subject departments but good in three out of five.
* Assessment for learning is unsatisfactory in a quarter of schools.
* Less effective teachers follow the strategy too slavishly, without taking account of pupils' needs.
* The strategy is most effective in the two-thirds of schools in which leadership is good.
Full details at www.ofsted.gov.uk