News story

Gibb: thousands of children behind in the 3 Rs by age 7

The Minister of State for schools comments on statistics which show that children are struggling in core subjects.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Teacher assessment scores published today show that thousands of 7-year-olds have fallen behind in the 3Rs after just three years of school.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said although many children were well taught and making the grade in the key subjects of reading, writing and maths, too many were struggling.

The provisional statistics show that:

  • More than 83,000 seven-year-olds have a reading age no better than a five-year-old.

  • Almost 106,000 cannot write to the level expected of a seven-year-old.

  • More than 58,000 fail to make the grade in maths.

  • There is a marked difference between the poorest children and the rest.

    • Only 73 per cent of all pupils on free school meals achieve the expected standard in reading, compared to 88 per cent not on free school meals.
    • Only 56 per cent of white British boys eligible for free school meals achieved the expected level in writing, compared with 81 per cent overall.
  • Overall there has been a flat-lining over the last five years in basic attainment in all subjects.

    • The proportion of seven-year-olds achieving at least the expected level is the same as 2007 in maths, and one percentage point up in reading and in writing.
    • The proportion working above the expected level is the same as 2007 in reading and in writing, and down two percentage points in maths.

Key figures

    2009      2010       2011  
  Boys Girls  All  Boys   Girls All  Boys   Girls All 
 Level 2 or above 80 88 84 81 89 85 82 89 85
 Level 3 or above 22 30 26 22 30 26 22 30 26
 Level 2 or above 75  87 81 75 87 81 76 87 81
 Level 3 or above   9 16 12   8 16 12   9 17 13

 Speaking and Listening

 Level 2 or above   84  90  87  84  90  87  84  91 87
 Level 3 or above  18  25 21   18  25  21  18  25 21 
 Level 2 or above   88  91  89 88   91  89 88  91  90
 Level 3 or above  23  19  21  23  18  20  23  18  20
 Level 2or above  87  91  89  87  90  89  87  90  89
 Level 3 or above  23  21  22  22  20  21  21  19  20

2011 data is provisional.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

These figures show that many children are doing well. But it is worrying that there are still so many who are behind just three years into their school careers.

Success in later life is founded on an understanding of the 3Rs in the first few years of school. Problems must be identified at a young age and rectified before it is too late.

For instance, in reading, it is the method of systematic synthetic phonics which is proven to help all pupils improve, especially the weakest. That is why from next summer teachers will check how six-year-olds are reading, and will then be able to give extra help to those who need it so they become strong readers.

He added:

The overriding objective of the government is to close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds.

Today’s Key Stage 1 figures revealing that a third of boys eligible for free school meals are not reaching the expected level in reading, demonstrates the scale of the challenge and why tackling poor reading is such an urgent priority.

Our focus on improving the teaching of reading in reception and Year 1 of primary school, with an emphasis on systematic synthetic phonics, and the age six reading check are all designed to improve reading, particularly among children from poorer backgrounds.

Level 2 or above: percentage of pupils on free school meals compared with all other pupils

  FSM pupils All other pupils Attainment gap
Reading                 73                      88                    15
Writing                 67                      85                    18
Mathematics                 81                      92                    11

Percentage of boys on free school meals achieving Level 2 or above

  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Reading 63 63 65 66  67
Writing 56 56 58 59 59
Maths 78 77 77 77 78
Science 75 75 75 76 76

 Local authority data

In Tower Hamlets, in inner-city east London, more than 47 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals, two-and-a-half times above the national average - yet 85 per cent achieve at least the expected level in reading.

The top local authorities for percentage of pupils achieving Level 2 or above in reading are:

  • Rutland, and Windsor and Maidenhead (92 per cent)
  • Richmond-upon-Thames, Solihull, Bath and North East Somerset, Wokingham, and West Berkshire (91 per cent)
  • Kingston-upon-Thames, and Northumberland (90 per cent)

The top local authorities for percentage of pupils achieving Level 2 or above in writing are:

  • Rutland (91 per cent)
  • Windsor and Maidenhead (90 per cent)
  • Richmond-upon-Thames (89 per cent)
  • Bath and North East Somerset, West Berkshire, and Wokingham (88 per cent)
  • Solihull, Central Bedfordshire and Northumberland (87 per cent)

The top local authorities for percentage of pupils achieving Level 2 or above in maths are:

  • Isle of Wight, and Windsor and Maidenhead (95 per cent)
  • Wokingham, Richmond-upon-Thames, Rutland, Bath and North East Somerset, Solihull, and West Berkshire (94 per cent)
  • Surrey, Hampshire, Derbyshire and Central Bedfordshire (93 per cent)

Progress statistics

The Department for Education also today published statistics showing the progress made by pupils between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, the end of primary school.
They show that:

  • In English, 83 per cent of pupils made the expected progress of two levels or more. This is the same as in 2010.
  • In maths, 82 per cent made at least the expected progress. This is the same as in 2010.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

As with basic attainment, these figures show that most pupils are making good progress - but there is more to do.

The progress children make is vital. We want schools to be developing all pupils’ knowledge and abilities, from whatever position they start.

Our new fair floor standards recognise the importance of progress and encourage schools to think about the performance of all their pupils, rather than focusing only on those who could help the school rise above the attainment threshold.

For the first time this year’s performance tables will include information on progression of groups of pupils with different attainment levels so parents and others can see how children of different abilities are stretched and catered for.

Notes to editors

  1. The results for both statistics are available on the Department’s website
  2. At Key Stage 1, schools use national tasks and tests in reading, writing and maths, alongside their observation of children’s work throughout the year, to reach an overall judgement on the level the child has reached in each subject. The tasks and tests can be administered at any time during the school year, are not time-limited, and are incorporated into normal classroom procedures as far as possible
  3. Schools are required to report teacher assessment levels in reading, writing, speaking and listening, maths, and science.
  4. Local authorities have a duty to moderate KS1 teacher assessment judgements in 25 per cent of their schools each year, prioritising teachers new to Key Stage 1 in order to provide professional development.
  5. Children are expected to reach Level 2 at Key Stage 1 (age seven) and Level 4 at Key Stage 2 (age 11). Children are considered to have made the expected progress if they improve by two or more levels between the two key stages.

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Published 29 September 2011