SCHOOLS that piloted the Government's overhaul of secondary lessons for two years have done no better than the rest of the country in tests for 14-year-olds.
The Government has made the transformation of the early secondary years the priority of its second term. Nearly pound;500 million has been ploughed into the key stage 3 stategy, designed to prevent pupils falling back when they transfer from primary school.
But despite being the first to benefit from the initiative the 205 schools in 17 pilot local education authorities produced uninspiring average results with a 1 percentage point rise in the proportion hitting the expected standard in maths and English - the same as the improvement nationally.
Pilot authorities have trialled the maths and English strategies since September 2000. Teachers split lessons into three parts: a 10-minute starter, which could involve a spelling test or mental arithmetic, is followed by the main topic, then a plenary session in which pupils go over what they have learned.
All the remianing secondaries in the country introduced the English and maths strategies last September. This term teachers are being trained in science, information and communications technology and teaching foundation subjects.
Performance among pilot authorities varied. Some, such as Greenwich, south London, did manage to raise the proportion of teenagers reaching the expected level. At Ashton Park, in Bristol, KS3 test results were the best ever with a jump of 14 percentage points in the proportion hitting the expected standard in English. Head Chris Gardner said: "There is no question that the strategy has improved our general performance."
But other LEAs went backwards. Solihull slipped in all three subjects. Kevin Crompton, education director, said: "The KS3 strategy is having a positive impact. We expect this to show in next year's results." He said that some schools had had trouble recruiting and retaining staff.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "Schools involved in the pilot have made significant progress since last year. Nearly half of them improved at a faster rate than the national average in English and maths."
He said pilot schools had been asked to focus on a range of things, not just national tests.
In a further setback for the tests, the Government's exam watchdog has been forced to re-check thousands of re-marked English scripts. The review was ordered after Sele School, in Hertford, asked for all its papers to be re-marked but discovered most had been ignored.
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority guidance says that, often, only a sample of papers at the borderline between levels needs re-marking. But in this case exam board AQA, contracted to do the marking, had not reassessed enough papers. The QCA said a re-check of all of AQA's re-marking had been launched but the error had been made at only one school.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke told The TES this week that KS3 was a priority and that developing the skills of teachers at that stage was particularly important.
BID TO BOOST ATTAINMENT
* The strategy was introduced because there has been little improvement in 14-year-olds' test results in the past four years.
* It is made up of five strands - English, maths, science, ICT, and teaching and learning in foundation subjects.
* Thousands of heads of department and classroom staff have received training in new teaching and learning techniques.
* About 95 per cent of heads said they supported the strategy in a Department for Education and Skills survey by MORI. Nearly all heads said it would have a positive impact on standards.
* By 2004, the Government wants to see three-quarters of 14-year-olds achieving level 5 in English, maths and ICT and 70 per cent in science.
* This year two-thirds of 14-year-olds reached level 5 in maths and English and 67 per cent achieved level 5 in science.