Meanwhile, in England and Wales ...

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The purpose of the new 11-plus tests in England and Wales is to provide information for the Government about schools' performance and to tell teachers what children know and can do.

Critics have suggested that the tests are a way of reintroducing selection, but the vast majority of English and Welsh children already know which school they will attend in September. The tests would have to be held much earlier to have any impact on the selection process.

Eventually, the Government plans to use 11-year-olds' test results in league tables that will compare children's performance at 11 with their performance in GCSE at 16. The tables will show the "value added" by the school during that time.

The tests, which are in English, maths and science, may be useful in showing which topics teachers find most difficult to teach. For instance, a report on last year's pilot pointed out that in maths children answered questions on number well but those on probability and on manipulating data from a table badly.

Results of the tests will be sent to the child's next school so that teachers there do not repeat work they have already done. Inspectors frequently criticise secondary schools for failing to take into account children's previous work in their first year after transfer from primary schools.

This year's tests, which will take four and a half hours spread over a week, will be externally marked by teachers recruited by the exam boards. Pupils will be awarded a "level". The Government expects most 11-year- olds to be at Level 4, while below average ones are at Level 3 and above average ones at Level 5. A few exceptional children may reach Level 6. However, the results of a pilot carried out last year suggest that the Government's expectations may be optimistic and that more than a third of children may still be at Level 3. Children expected to be at Level 1 or 2 will do separate tasks within the test structure.

Tests will also be marked so schools will be able to tell parents the actual mark awarded.

Pupils will also be assessed separately on their classwork and will be awarded a level by their own teachers. Their performance in using and applying maths and science and in speaking and listening in English will be marked only by children's class teachers.

The tests will provide a "snapshot" and the teacher assessment a "video programme", according to officials at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority who are organising the tests. The point of external marking, they say, is to give parents an assurance that their children have been assessed against an external standard as they are in GCSE and A-level exams.

Results will be returned to schools by the end of June. By law schools have to send parents a written report that includes the level awarded by the end of term.