August 29, 2008

Minister Hails School Results but Warns Over Complacency ; POLITICS

The number of seven-year-olds mastering basic skills in English and maths has remained the same for the second year in a row, Government figures showed yesterday.

Primary school assessments across England showed that there was no improvement this year in the proportions reaching the standards expected of their age group.

In writing, 80 per cent of seven-year-olds are reaching the required standard, in reading the proportion is 84 per cent and in maths it is 90 per cent.

The figures, from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, are based on assessments by teachers in England's primary schools, which include results from tests.

By the age of seven, schoolchildren are expected to have reached Level 2 in the core subjects, which they are assessed on.

The latest figures showed that in speaking and listening 87 per cent reached Level 2, and in science, 89 per cent.

The figures have remained static since 2006, except in writing, which dropped by one percentage point from 81 per cent to 80 per cent between 2006 and 2007.

Children's Minister Kevin Brennan said he was pleased with the results, but warned against complacency.

He said more still needed to be done to boost standards further. Mr Brennan said: "I congratulate schools and teachers who work hard to give children the best possible start to their education. I'm pleased that high standards continue to be maintained but I want to see year-on-year improvements.

Like teachers across the country, I have high expectations for all children.

"There are no quick fixes but more can be done, especially for children who are really struggling with basic literacy and numeracy, and for those children who, with a bit of help, could reach the next level up."

Girls are still outperforming boys in every area, with the starkest gap in writing skills.

While 86 per cent of girls achieved Level 2 in writing for boys the figure was significantly lower, with 75 per cent attaining the same standard.

Fewer boys are achieving the expected level in speaking and listening, down to 83 per cent from 84 per cent last year.

And in reading 80 per cent of boys were judged to be on track for their age group, compared with 88 per cent of girls.

Mr Brennan said the new Early Years Foundation Stage, which comes into force from next week, would help give young children a head start before reaching primary school.

Dubbed the "nappy curriculum", the framework would see pre- school children expected to meet 69 literacy, numeracy and problem- solving goals.

Mr Brennan said parents also had a role to play in helping their child's academic progress. He said: "Reading at home with children and rationing time spent watching TV at this crucial stage are vitally important."

Liberal Democrat children's spokesman David Laws said: "Progress in tackling the problem of poor literacy and numeracy amongst our youngest children has stalled.

"Children who don't master basic skills at an early age risk falling even further behind in primary and secondary school.

"There must be a much greater focus on early identification of these problems and more one-to-one support for children with basic literacy and numeracy problems."

Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove said: "It is vital that children get the basics early in primary school but the results for seven-year-olds are flatlining.

"With one in six children still not reaching the expected level of reading, it is difficult for them to progress in the next few years of primary school.

"Without learning to read, they will never be able to read to learn."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, congratulated teaching staff and pupils for achieving "splendid results".

He added: "NAHT agrees that there is no room for complacency, and endorses the Government's initiatives, such as Every Child A Reader, and Every Child Counts, to support the children who need that extra bit of help at this stage.

NAHT also notes with approval ministerial comment on the vital role played by parents."

Children who don't master basic skills at an early age risk falling even further behind in primary and secondary school

David Laws, Lib Dem children's spokesman

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