Bright pupils to take tests early under national curriculum reform

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Bright pupils will be fast-tracked so that they can take their national curriculum tests and exams early under a new government blueprint to be published today.

And youngsters struggling in class will be given free, one-to-one tuition to help them keep up with their classmates.

The twin moves are proposed in a consultation document from the Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson. The proposals come in response to an inquiry into education published last week which warned of the danger of pupils getting "stuck" in school and failing to make progress in the three Rs.

Ministers are anxious to ensure that no child gets left behind in school and that all children are stretched so that they can achieve their full potential.

The inquiry team, headed by the chief inspector of schools, Christine Gilbert, recommended that children should take their national curriculum tests "when ready" - rather than testing every child of the same age on the same day, regardless of their abilities.

This approach is already being adopted for the national curriculum tests which are taken in maths and English by children at the age of seven.

Ministers are anxious that every child should make progress at each stage of education. That would mean those who achieve higher than average results in tests at the age of 11 - and have the reading ability of a 14-year-old when leaving primary school - should be encouraged to aim at a higher standard in secondary school than that demanded by the national curriculum tests at 14.

Ultimately, it could mean that the brightest pupils will take some of their GCSE exams early.

Ministers are also anxious that children from deprived homes should have the same access to free, one-to-one tuition to help them improve as children whose parents can afford to send them to school in the private sector.

Teachers' leaders are likely to welcome today's package, particularly as Mr Johnson is mounting a consultation exercise on the proposals. Only last year, all five teachers' unions demanded an independent review of the current testing and assessment regime - claiming that the system put too much burden on pupils and that school performance tables encouraged teachers to teach to the test.

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It seems we have got our review. All that is missing is the independence.

"All the evidence is the current system of testing is damaging the curriculum - particularly for young people leaving primary school or deciding what GCSE courses they want to do." However, ministers are likely to insist that there will still be a robust testing system in force.

"All their new proposals are attempting to do is to tailor the system to the needs of individual pupils - and offer them a personalised education.

Teachers' leaders say that ministers will have to scrap exam league tables and remove some of the targets they have set schools to achieve this - otherwise teachers will be too worried about their school's showing in the league tables to concentrate, in particular, on stretching the brightest children.