Children aged just four are to be tested on counting and how well they recognise letters and pictures, under reforms announced by the Government.
David Laws, the Schools Minister, said children would be assessed by teachers when they start reception classes to enable their progress to be monitored in later years.
Schools will then be judged on their performance when these tests are compared with exams taken when the children are 11.
Mr Laws said the move would introduce a “proper measure” of children’s progress.
“The new system will mean higher standards, no hiding place for under-performing schools and coasting schools, and real credit being given to schools and colleges which may have challenging intakes but which improve their pupils' performance,” he said.
“I want to see all children leaving primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths so that they can thrive at secondary school. A better start at secondary school is a better start in life.”
The tests at the age of four will consist of a teacher sitting down with a pupil and testing their ability to count, read the alphabet, and recognise objects or pictures.
A school will not be judged as failing if enough pupils are making reasonable progress from the baseline set by the early assessments or if 85 per cent of them pass the tests at 11.
The baseline system of assessment will be rolled out in secondary school, sixth forms and colleges, with secondary school pupils having their GCSEs measured against their results in the tests at 11 and colleges and sixth form students' progress assessed against their GCSE grades.
Mr Laws said the Government would also be “asking much more of secondary schools”.
“They will need to ensure they teach a broad range of subjects, with a special focus on English and maths,” Mr Laws said. “But they will also be fairly judged on the progress their pupils make, and the removal of the blunt C grade threshold means all children will get the attention they deserve.
"Colleges and school sixth forms will, for the first time, have to meet a range of demanding measures and show that they are getting their students into good jobs, further study or apprenticeships.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said they welcomed the “emphasis on progress as the defining measure of school performance and the recognition that there is more to primary education than preparing for secondary education; and, indeed, more to preparing for secondary school than tests in English and maths”.
“I believe the profession should take seriously the proposal to baseline performance in reception,” he added.
“The first three years of education are arguably the most important and they are currently ignored in the accountability framework, punishing those schools who serve the most challenging communities."