Shock over reading figures

NEARLY a third of 14-year-olds in Suffolk and Essex are not able to read properly, this year's achievement test results show.Boys in the two counties fared far worse than girls when it comes to literacy, with the gender gap in those achieving level five in Key Stage 3 tests now reaching up to 17%.

NEARLY a third of 14-year-olds in Suffolk and Essex are not able to read properly, this year's achievement test results show.

Boys in the two counties fared far worse than girls when it comes to literacy, with the gender gap in those achieving level five in Key Stage 3 tests now reaching up to 17%.

Around one in four students fell short of the standards expected of their age group in the English national curriculum tests. For writing, the failure rate dropped to one in five.

But the number of 14-year-olds achieving the expected level five has excelled the national averages in all the Key Stage 3 tests.


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While standards in English and reading in both counties has dropped very slightly since last year, maths and science have seen an improvement in performance, with boys equalling or only a percentage point away from the success of their female fellow pupils.

Teaching unions last night expressed concern about the performance in the reading tests, blaming a variety of issues from the education system itself to the pressures of modern culture.

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Martin Goold, general secretary of the Suffolk National Union of Teachers, said: “I think we have to be realistic and take a step back from this constant measuring of performance because it is becoming counter productive.

“We are now hearing reports of children suffering from mental illness because of this constant pressure to achieve better results and we are starting to see a backlash.

“I firmly believe we should take a page out of Finland's book. The country has no national curriculum or government inspectors yet they have the best educated children in Europe.

“Britain has taken a wrong turn in education and we should learn from what the Fins are doing rather than concentrate on this bureaucratic number crunching target setting which is no help to anyone.”

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex NUT, said: “While there is a place for computer games and video games, it's when these sorts of activities consume inordinate amounts of leisure time that we are fearful that reading is being displaced.

“If that is a factor in these results, then it is something that needs to be looked at from a clearly-determined national strategic perspective.

“From my experience, the engagement of students in these activities is increasing year on year and that cannot be good.

“But there is a limit to what schools can do to counteract that. It sounds authoritarian, but there is a significant responsibility on parents to be aware of what their children are doing and how much time they are spending in front of a screen.”

Education bosses in Suffolk described the provisional results released by the Department for Education and Skills yesterday, as excellent, demonstrating the thorough work of teachers and students in the county's schools.

Patricia O'Brien, portfolio holder for children and young people's services, said: “Our Key Stage 3 provisional results are encouraging, in maths they put Suffolk schools above the national average and in science we are significantly above the national average.

“In English, results have dropped nationally, but in Suffolk they have dropped less than elsewhere and performance remains significantly above the national level.”

Essex County Council was unavailable to comment last night.

Schools minister Jim Knight said the national two percentage point drop in pupils reaching the expected level five in the English tests was worrying.

The Government wants primary schools to return to a traditional method of teaching reading known as “phonics”. It involves children learning individual letter sounds and then how to blend them to form whole words.

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said the results for reading showed it was vital to return to phonics in primary schools.

He said level five was an absolute minimum standard that all children need if they are to benefit from secondary education and if they are to survive in the increasingly competitive job market in later life.

Percentage of pupils achieving level five or above in the 2006 Key Stage 3 tests - provisional results

Suffolk Essex

English

Boys 69 69

Girls 84 83

All 76 75

Reading

Boys 62 62

Girls 79 77

All 70 69

Writing

Boys 73 72

Girls 87 86

All 80 79

Mathematics

Boys 78 78

Girls 79 78

All 78 78

Science

Boys 76 74

Girls 77 75

All 77 75

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