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Weak ones that put the targets in jeopardy

The Government faces the most severe test of its strategy to raise standards in around ten local education authorities where test scores are low and not improving.

The TES analysis of key stage 2 results suggests that some weak authorities are falling further behind. In Liverpool, Bradford and Sheffield the Government's national targets in English and maths are likely to prove elusive.

Between 1997 and 1998 the rate of improvement in primary schools in five London boroughs and the new local authority of Milton Keynes was below the national average in English and maths.

Scores for maths in Bradford, and the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham are now 13 percentage points below the national average of 58 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching level 4. The City of Nottingham authority, created in 1998, is 18 points below.

Results in Bradford declined over the past 12 months by 5 per centage points; Rotherham by 9 percentage points; and Tower Hamlets by 6. This compares to a national decline of 3 percentage points following the introduction of a mental arithmetic test. The drop in Newham's results was less than the average.

Maths results have also declined by double the national rate over the last year in the London boroughs of Haringey and Islington.

The maths results in the Isle of Wight are now on a par with those achieved in the London borough of Hackney after a fall in the last year of more than 10 percentage points.

A similar pattern emerges in English, where a number of poor authorities failed to equal the two percentage points national improvement - to achieve their targets they have to improve faster than authorities with better results.

Despite substantial improvement over the years, the London borough of Newham remains the poorest performer in English at the top end of primary - it is 13 percentage points below the national average of 64. It will have to improve at a rate of 5 percentage points a year to reach its 2002 target of 70 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching level 4.

English scores are low in Bradford, Liverpool, Hackney, Rotherham, Islington and Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire. Among those authorities only Liverpool and Hackney improved at a rate above the national average last year. The results in Milton Keynes actually dropped by 1 percentage point.

However, ministers can take heart from results in a number of hard-pressed areas. In the London borough of Brent - where 25 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals - results in English are at the national average and above in maths .

Between 1997 and 1998, Barking and Dagenham in Essex pushed up its English results by almost 8 percentage points. Brent managed to improve its key stage 2 maths score slightly, in contrast to a 3 percentage points decline nationally.

The impact of the pilot work in literacy and numeracy is difficult to judge from the table of results.

Tower Hamlets, which is part of the numeracy project, saw a five point drop in maths scores.

Of the literacy pilots, Liverpool and Hackney improved their results by more than the national average. But the rate of improvement in English in Islington and Bradford was just below the national average.

The Government is banking on substantial improvements being brought about by its national strategies in English and maths.

Additional research: Patrick Doe

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