One in 10 fails in basics

9th June 2006 at 01:00
English and maths GCSE results show ministers have missed the target of literacy and numeracy for all. Jon Slater reports

A tenth of 16-year-olds left school last year with poor literacy or numeracy skills.

About 60,000 16-year-olds did not pass GCSE English or maths, official figures show. And one in 20 - almost 32,000 teenagers - failed to gain a GCSE in both subjects.

More than 35,000 pupils did not sit GCSE English, and 27,000 did not take maths.

Critics said the results, published by the Department for Education and Skills in its latest statistical bulletin and in a parliamentary answer, showed that millions of pounds spent by the Government had failed to deliver the promise of literacy and numeracy for all.

The Confederation of British Industry said employers were increasingly worried about young people's lack of basic skills. The results showed boys are more likely than girls to fail both English and maths, with 9 per cent failing to get a GCSE in each subject. A total of 5 per cent of girls failed English and 6 per cent failed maths. Overall, 47,000 school-leavers do not have maths GCSE; 45,000 do not have English and one in 10 failed to gain a GCSE in any science.

Almost half of school-leavers do not achieve a grade C or above in maths, and more than two out of five fail to do so in English.

But the statistics also reveal that the numbers of pupils without basic literacy and numeracy qualifications has fallen since Labour came to power.

The proportion of pupils gaining at least five A*-G grade GCSEs, including English and maths, increased from 83.9 per cent in 1996-7 to 88 per cent last year.

Pupils who sat their GCSEs last year were in primary school when Tony Blair came to power.

Jim Knight, schools minister, said: "The trend over the past 10 years is of continued improvement in achievement."

He said reforms set out in December's 14-19 white paper would further boost GCSE performance in the 3Rs.

School league tables have been changed to put greater emphasis on English and maths - with a separate indicator showing how many pupils gain five A*-C grades, including these two subjects.

New functional skills tests to ensure pupils cannot gain a good grade in GCSE English or maths without mastering the basics will be piloted from September.

From 2008, there will also be greater curriculum flexibility to allow more time for catch-up classes for 11 to 14-year-olds who have weak literacy and numeracy skills.

Ofsted said last year that secondary schools were not doing enough to help those who left primary schools with below-average English and maths.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham university, said: "These results are very disappointing after all the effort the Government has put in. The core of education is to make children fluent in English and maths."

But he warned against the adoption of particular teaching methods in reading, writing and arithmetic. He said teachers need to have the freedom to try a range of different strategies and pick what works best for their class.

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

NEWS 13, platform 21

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