Launching Ofsted's report on the first four years of primary inspections, Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead said the quality of teaching and learning had improved markedly between 1994 and 1998. But even more improvement was needed to meet David Blunkett's targets for literacy and numeracy in 2002, he said.
Mr Woodhead praised teachers and schools for raising standards, the report says. There is better teaching not only in the 3Rs, but in subjects such as art and history. Information technology is the worst-taught subject.
The report acknowledges the problems of schools in disadvantaged areas, and their continued tendency to achieve below national averages. It says the conditions they face "are certainly sufficient to justify additional resources". Teacher appraisal "remains a seriously weak feature in primary schools", and needs to become "far more robust", says Ofsted.
About 3 per cent of schools are failing, and a further 8 per cent have serious weaknesses. The best schools are producing children two years ahead of other schools which take pupils from a similar background. Other long-term problems are the gap between girls' and boys' achievement and the attainment dip at age eight.
The report says: "Primary schools are much more focused than ever before on raising standards of pupil achievement and less willing to tolerate professional weaknesses and ideologies that depress pupils' progress."
The "temptation to pour more educational quarts into primary pint pots should be resisted" so schools can develop the quality of their work and "capitalise" on the reforms set in place.