STANDARDS of writing in primary schools will have to improve over the next two years if the Government is to achieve its literacy target for 11-year-olds.
Test results published this week show higher scores in reading, maths and science, but writing standards fail to show any significant improvement.
More than three-quarters of 11-year-olds managed to reach the required level in English; 72 per cent in maths and 85 per cent in science. However, more than half of boys cannot write at the level expected of 11-year-olds.
In secondary schools, where the Government has already recognised there are problems with literacy, English scores among 14-year-olds actually fell by one percentage point.
Ministers believe the daily literacy hour and maths lesson have boosted test results in primary schools and writing is being targetted over the next 12 months - pound;9 million is being spent on additional training for heads and teachers and all schools have been sent grammar primers.
The maths strategy appears to be having an impact lower down primary schools with results among seven-year-olds showing a 9 percentage point improvement over 12 months in the top two grades. An additional pound;6 million is being provided for training teachers in the numeracy strategy.
Speaking on Radio 5 Live,Education Secretary David Blunkett said: "We are getting very close. If we continued in this vein, we would make the targets."
But he added: "I'm not the least bit complacent. We hae still got a long way to go, particularly on teaching children to write. In writing we have got a real struggle."
Academics believe the English target will be hard to achieve unless writing progress speeds up. However, ministers will be heartened by new research that suggests the English and maths scores are down to higher standards and not lax marking or easier papers.
Work carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research and Dr Mike Treadaway of the Fischer Family Trust has found that the level of difficulty has remained consistent over the past four years.
The Government can also claim credit for its focus on inner- city schools which have in recorded some spectacular results. Overall, the London borough of Tower Hamlets has shown the greatest improvement. On the day the results were announced Mr Blunkett visited Marion Richardson school in Stepney, east London, where 80 per cent of 11-year-olds achieved the required level in English and 85 per cent in maths.
However, two local authorities showing dramatically improved primary results are Walsall and Rotherham, where ministers have decided education services are so poor they should be privatised.
Test results for 14-year-olds suggest standards are static, with boys' grasp of English a particular problem. Only 55 per cent of boys reached the required level, the same proportion as a year ago. Girls' scores in English fell by 1 per cent to 72 per cent.
Research Focus, 24