Schools will be forced to publish the results of national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds in exam league tables for the first time ever from next year.
The decision, which has the personal backing of Tony Blair, is certain to cause an outcry from teachers' leaders, who have urged them to follow the example of Wales and Northern Ireland and ban league tables altogether rather than extend them.
They are likely to claim it will put more pressure on teachers at a time when up to 40 per cent of trainees quit before completing three years' service in the classroom.
However, ministers are determined to go ahead with the move which will put the test results on a par with GCSEs and A-levels. The move will be included in legislation to be outlined as part of a controversial White Paper on the future of education to be published on Wednesday.
Ministers insist the move is necessary to drive up standards in the nation's secondary schools, in line with Labour's key policy pledge at the last election.
The decision to publish the results of tests in maths, English, information technology and science is seen as a lever to put pressure on teachers to improve standards. There has been little progress in test results for 14-year-olds compared with those for 11-year-olds, which are already published as league tables.
However, it is also seen as confirmation of the importance ministers attach to the age of 14 as a turning point in young people's futures. Ultimately schools, and it is believed ministers, would like to scrap GCSEs and use the 14-year-old tests as a way to help determine whether pupils have an academic or vocational future.
But in a week that has seen the Government on the defensive after rising concern about teacher shortages, union leaders will argue that the publication of a new league table will only add to the pressure on their members and lead to more leaving the profession.
Earlier this week, Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools, said the teaching shortage was worse than it had ever been during his lifetime in education. He started teaching in 1965. A report by Demos, the left-of-centre think-tank close to the Blair government, warned that shortages would get worse if Ministers failed to reduce pressures on teachers.
Ministers argue the publication of the test results for 14-year-olds will assist the eventual aim of publishing "value added" league tables. Raw test and exam scores, published at present, tend to put schools serving the country's leafier suburbs on top.
The new "value added" tables will show parents what progress schools have made with pupils from the age of 11, when they start secondary school, to the age of 14. They will also show what progress has been made between tests for 14-year-olds and GCSEs.
The decision to publish the new tables marks a change in Labour policy. When it came into government in 1997, Labour vowed to abolish test league tables for national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds, but changed its mind after newspapers continued to publish them.
A source from the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) said: "Many pupils make little progress and some even fall behind in their achievement in primary schools... It will also benefit the many schools who do not think the present performance tables have given a fair picture of how much progress their pupils have made.
"The new value-added tables will show where tables have brought about significant improvements in the education of their pupils and where schools may be coasting despite a relatively good position in the performance tables."
* Twenty thousand new teachers will start work in state schools this week, the DFES said last night. Education Secretary Estelle Morris added that the Government would be concentrating on measures aimed at retaining teachers in the classroom.Reuse content