Our pupils lag behind - aged just seven - as gap between Sheffield and the rest of the country widens

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AN investigation has been ordered by education chiefs after hundreds of Sheffield seven-year-olds were found to be falling behind expected targets in ‘the three Rs’.

The pupils are lagging behind national averages in reading, writing and maths, according to new Government figures for the 2010-11 school year.

And their performance in science was particularly poor, with the gap between Sheffield and the rest of the country widening to seven per cent.

The statistics show the city is lagging behind the national average - with 82 per cent of city infants making the grade in reading, 78 per cent in writing, 87 per cent in maths and 82 per cent in science.

The comparable national pass rates are 85 per cent, 81 per cent, 90 per cent and 89 per cent.

Sheffield education chiefs have ordered a full review of provision for the city’s under-sevens, acknowledging standards are not high enough.

But they are pointing out that - while this year’s science scores are disappointing - in reading, writing and maths children are gaining ground on national averages.

Jane Golightly, deputy executive director for early years education, said improvements were being made.

“But we remain lower than the national average and we are not catching up as quickly as we would wish,” she said.

“We are aiming to address this by concentrating on the learning experiences children have from their earliest years.

“We are working with parents and carers, health services and the private and voluntary sectors to make sure children are keen and ready to learn by the time they start school.”

Work was also going on to develop high quality teaching to help children make progress in their first reception year, Mrs Golightly said.

“One example of what we are doing is the Family Time campaign which encourages mums and dads to read with their children.

“We’re also providing books in the home in key areas of the city, and organising fun events to promote language and literacy,” she added.

Waterthorpe Infants headteacher Helen Stokes said it was vital for young children to get a good grounding in the basics in their first years at school.

“The results in our family of schools are higher than the Sheffield average and we have a solid focus on raising attainment,” she said.

“Abilities such as speaking and listening are key areas, and if youngsters fail to make the necessary progress they will struggle later on.

“But the most important thing is to look at where pupils are starting from - it isn’t necessarily about where they are ending up at seven.

“Schools may be helping children make really good progress but from a lower base,” Mrs Stokes said.

National figures highlighted a marked difference between children from poorer backgrounds and the rest, with more than a quarter of youngsters on free school meals failing to make the grade in reading.

STORY IN NUMBERS

18% - The city infants falling behind in reading

22% - The percentage falling behind in writing

13% - The city infants not making the grade in maths

18% - The percentage lagging behind in science