THE departing chief inspector of schools has paid tribute to the transformation in the standard of English and maths in primary schools.
In the final press conference of his turbulent years at the Office for Standards in Education, Chris Woodhead, exceptionally, praised the hard work of teachers. He also praised the literacy and numeracy strategy directors and ministers for taking on an initiative begun by the previous Conservative administration.
Schools in England had raised standards in reading and maths, but, as yet, had failed to make significant improvements in writing. According to Mr Woodhead, boys still lagged behind girls in English and more than half of all boys still did not reach the required standard by the time they leave primary school.
"Boys tend to have less fine motor skills in terms of writing, but other than that I see no reason why they can't reach the standard set by girls," he said.
Keith Lloyd, head of OFSTED's primary division, said schools had adopted guided group reading in place of the failed method of hearing children read individually. While there were few signs that writing was about to take off in schools, he was confident that new materials on grammar would make an impact.
Already schools have begun to modify the literacy hour and provide extra time for writing. Teachers are also introducing regular handwriting sessions.
Over the past year, the reading gap between 11-year-old boys and girls has narrowed to six percentage points, but the writing gap remains at 15. Faster progress could be made by seven-year-olds, he said, with more consistent teaching of phonics. The report says: "There are still too many classes in which the teaching of phonics is not always regular or systematic and the coverage of phonic knowledge at key stage 1 (ages five to seven) is often too slow."
The numeracy strategy, according to inspectors, has had a profound impact on schools. Lessons are far more interactive, children enjoy maths more and standards have risen.
However, schools are failing to teach children the most effective way of using calculators. There are also weaknesses in lessons on ratios and proportions, partly because of gaps in teachers' own knowledge.
The greatest improvements have been in the oral and mental skills of young children: the first part of the maths lesson is mental arithmetic.
In both English and mathsthe Government is within a few percentage points of achieving its targets.
Mr Woodhead told the press conference: "I cannot overestimate the importance of the national literacy and numeracy strategies in raising standards in our primary schools - the fundamental prerequisite for raising educational standards generally."
Research carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research confirms that standards have risen. It found that in maths and English there was evidence of higher scores. It also found that second-language speakers had higher scores in English. For example, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils tended to have higher scores in spelling and writing than white pupils.
In maths, the NFER found boys achieved better results than girls and Indian and Chinese pupils tended to have higher scores.
The literacy strategy is aimed at raising the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching level 4 to 80 per cent by 2002.
It involves a mixture of whole-class teaching and group work, with a focus on phonics, spelling, vocabulary, handwriting and grammar.
The Government has announced that the literacy hour will be extended to secondaries next year.
Spelling tests at key stage 1, Year 2, include words such as toys; church; said; gone; above.
Spelling tests at key stage 2, Year 6, include words such as journey; interesting; cities; carriages.
Level 4 requires accurate punctuation including the use of speech marks and paragraphs, plus retrieval of information from text.
Level 5 requires pupils to use a more complicated vocabularly, and have a personal response to a text.
The numeracy strategy was introduced in September 1999.
The Government wants to see 75 per cent of 11-year-olds reach level 4 by 2002.
Schools now teach a daily lesson, with an emphasis on mental calculation, including times tables, and whole-class teaching.
Schools doing poorly in maths received extra support..
At key stage 1, Year 2, pupils may be asked questions such as: 79 minus 34 or 35 plus 25.
Key stage 2, Year 6, may be asked to find the cost of 145 bottles of lemonade at 21p each; what change would you get from pound;50? Rapid calculation: 17.2 divided by 4? 108 shared between 9?
By Year 6, pupils are expected to find simple percentages, and
calculate mentally a difference such as 8006-2993.