Writing Skills in sharp Decline.

Writing skills in sharp decline.

Figures obtained by The Observer from the Education and Employment Department show the standard of writing among 11-year-olds declined in the first year of Tony Blair’s government. Ministers fear the trend will continue with this summer’s tests. The figures reveal that resources have been focused on reading, for which the problem is nowhere near as serious, while ignoring a looming disaster in writing.

In a bid to stave off the crisis, Education Secretary David Blunkett has diverted a substantial amount of the £48 million set aside for the literacy strategy to set up booster writing classes for 10-and 11-year-olds. Schools that identify a problem will be given extra teacher training from next term.

Writing Skills in sharp Decline.

Blunkett has threatened to resign if 80 per cent of 11-year-olds do not reach the expected level in English by 2002. Last year the figure rose from 63 per cent to 65 per cent. But it is being held down by the crisis in writing, where only 53 per cent are performing to the expected standard.

The prospect of a nation of illiterates has appalled political figures and writers. Lord Archer, a Conservative candidate for London’s mayor, said last night: ‘The Government should be judged on results of writing even more than on the reading score. You can’t just have a literacy hour; you have to teach these things.

Author Fay Weldon blamed a lack of investment in teachers: ‘The Government shouldn’t be surprised that there is a problem when classes are so large. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to teach a child to write. You have to help them to form letters from an early age, and that is a very labour-intensive process.’

Tests for 11-year-olds are now the most serious problem facing the Education Secretary. Earlier this month, an independent inquiry cleared the Government of lowering the standards of tests to make it easier to hit its targets.