1 in 5 cannot read but results still ‘best ever’

The government has welcomed this year’s key stage two results as the best-ever batch, showing progress in literacy and numeracy.

However, critics claim progress has stalled, with four in ten children leaving primary school unable to read, write or count to the required standard.

The results show a one per cent rise in 11-year-olds achieving the required standards in all subjects.

Of the 600,000 primary school leavers who took the key stage two exams, 80 per cent reached level four in English, 77 per cent passed maths and 88 per cent met national standards in science.

But targets for 85 per cent of pupils to reach level four in English and maths were missed for the second year running. Boys have also continued to fall behind girls.

Schools minister Andrew Adonis dismissed concerns and said the results were the “best set of key stage two results we have ever seen”.

Lord Adonis said: “These are record results but of course we have got further to go and we are quite open about that.

“We won’t be satisfied until we get all children up to the expected level in literacy and numeracy.”

The Liberal Democrats dismissed Lord Adonis’ “best ever” claim as a “hollow boast”.

Schools spokesman Stephen Williams said: “Ministers should put their champagne on ice.despite some marginal improvements, disturbing trends still persist.”

Mr Williams said far too many children were leaving primary school without the skills needed to deal with secondary education.

The think-tank Civitas echoed these concerns, arguing apparent improvements at key stage two should not be taken at face level.

It quoted research from education professionals that suggested children are not making massive improvements but schools are instead ‘teaching for the test’.

“Not only are these results exaggerated, achieving them has had hugely damaging consequences for children,” argued Civitas’ Anastasia de Waal.

“The only people these ‘record’ scores serve is the government.”

Civitas argues the curriculum has been shrunk to concentrate classroom time on tested material, while teachers are increasingly focusing their efforts on borderline key stage four pupils.

A spokesman said: “Much of New Labour’s achievement in primary school, as ‘proved’ by the key stage two results, has actually been due to a toxic cocktail of last-minute cramming, teaching to the test and lowered standards.”

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) echoed these concerns and called on Ed Balls to launch an independent assessment of the real impact of primary school testing.

Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary, said: “The national test results conceal the downside of tests, targets and tables.

“We surely must be able to come up with a better system than one which encourages the hot-house pressures of teaching to the test at the expense of the rest of the curriculum and unrealistic national targets whose very existence feeds the prejudices of those determined to find failure.”

Ed Balls affirmed his commitment to national testing soon after he was appointed education secretary.

Mr Balls argued regular testing lets policy makers see what is working and schools to intervene and help under-achieving pupils.