Drop in children's basic learning skills

STEVE DOWNES A flying start for Norfolk's four and five-year-olds appeared to have ground to a halt last night as new figures showed a worrying slump in the basics needed for their future.

STEVE DOWNES

A flying start for Norfolk's four and five-year-olds appeared to have ground to a halt last night as new figures showed a worrying slump in the basics needed for their future.

Performance in essential areas like reading, writing and language development has fallen - a year after the county's tiniest schoolchildren were among the nation's front-runners.

Overall performance in 13 areas assessed in the classroom by teachers at scores of Norfolk schools still puts the county's four-year-olds well ahead of the national average.

But there will be concern among education chiefs that recent progress has halted, with the youngsters going backwards in 10 of the 13 areas.

The findings are revealed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) in its annual look at the results of assessments of children in their first year at primary school.

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The Foundation Stage Profile, as the assessment is known, shows how children are developing the skills expected of five-year-olds at the end of their reception year.

Children are ranked from levels one to nine, with six the target level. They are measured for their performance in 13 key areas, including:

Reading

Writing

Calculating

Social development

Language for communication

Physical development

Suffolk's youngsters, who are some way behind Norfolk overall, have fallen back in four areas, improved in two and remained the same in seven

In Cambridgeshire, where the children are ranked among the best in England, performance improved in six areas, fell back in four and stayed the same in three. Last year, Norfolk was ranked sixth in England after 93pc achieved at least the benchmark level six for physical development, and ninth for disposition and attitude, with 92pc achieving level six or higher.

This year, 90pc achieved the target level or higher for physical development, pushing the county down to 37th. Its ranking for disposition and attitude fell to 35th after the percentage reaching at least level six dropped to 90pc.

Norfolk was ranked highest, at 16th in England, for shape, space and measures, and was no lower than 38th out of the 150 local authorities in any of the 13 assessment areas.

Nationally, there was criticism of the government's flagship Sure Start programme, which has seen children's centres built in many communities.

Doubts were raised about the pro-gramme as national figures showed one in seven children could not write their own name in the first school year - and that those in the most deprived areas were lagging behind their peers.

Many struggled to say the letters of the alphabet, and a third failed to recog-nise simple words such as dog or pen.

Shadow families minister Maria Miller said the Sure Start programme was not giving toddlers the education they needed, adding: "Children from our most deprived communities still face a significant disadvantage which Sure Start has not yet been able to address."

But children's minister Beverley Hughes said: "This year's results are a credit to the hard work that parents, practitioners and local authorities have done to make sure that children have the best possible start in life."

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