Will 11-year-olds miss target?

National test results for 11-year-olds are attracting even more speculation than usual this year.

Five years ago the Government said that by 2002 it wanted 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to achieve at least level 4 in English. The maths target was 75 per cent. But how realistic do these goals look now?

Over the past three years, the percentage of boys and girls achieving the expected levels at key stages 1 and 2 has continued to rise. Girls have reached KS2 English targets relatively easily, passing the 80 per cent mark last year.

However, boys' achievement in KS2 English is still a cause for concern. Only 70 per cent of boys got level 4 or above in English last year - the same as the previous year. It will be remarkable if 80 per cent of them reach level 4 this year.

In maths, the position is almost reversed, with boys slightly ahead of girls. But both are short of the target. Last year, 71 per cent of Year 6 boys reached level 4 or above compared with 70 per cent of girls. This means that nationally, gains of four to five percentage points will be needed in just one year to meet the 2002 target. Judging by past performance that is unlikely.

The relatively high number of schools serving deprived areas is one obstacles to progress. Generally they score lower in tests. The same seems true, at both KS1 and KS2, for smaller schools with fewer than 10 pupils in each year group. Factors, such as teacher turnover and the increasing use of supply cover, may affect outcomes, though this is impossible to determine from the data available.

There are grounds for optimism, however. Even if the Government's targets are not met this year, reductions in class sizes at KS1 are likely to deliver higher test scores over the next few years.

John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and director of Education Data Surveys. Email: john.howson@lineone.net

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