Ministers plan national tests for four-year-olds

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The Independent Online

A national test is being planned by ministers to assess all children aged four or five before they start school.

A national test is being planned by ministers to assess all children aged four or five before they start school.

Government examination advisers said yesterday they were consulting teachers and parents on a common test to replace 90 different local schemes used to judge children during their first year in school. Ministers are proposing that pupils take the test before the compulsory school starting age so their achievement is charted throughout primary school.

The test would assess how far they had progressed towards the "early learning goals" based on the three Rsfor children aged between three and six, which were announced last year. For four-year-olds these include writing and reading friends' names, playing counting games and talking about their holidays. For five-year-olds the goalsinclude retelling stories, adding and subtracting with pebbles and talking about their neighbourhoods.

At present children are supposed to be tested within the first seven weeks of their first year of compulsory school. In practice there is a wide variation in the timing of the assessments and schools can choose from the 90 tests.

Under the proposals, to be enacted from September 2002, children would be assessed in the previous term when some were in reception year at school and some in nursery school.

When the national scheme is in place, ministers and schools will be able to compare children's test results at 11 with their performance when they started school and evaluate how each school has improved children's performances.

The Department for Education and Employment said yesterday that the test would be "light touch" and most children would not be aware they were being assessed.

A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is consulting on the proposals, said: "At present, there is a feeling that time is wasted when children start school. If they were assessed a little earlier, teachers could start teaching full steam ahead from the first day." But he stressed that the timing of the test would depend on the outcome of the consultation.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "I think it is a very good idea to introduce a national test, but we must be careful about moving the test forward otherwise we will get to the stage where they are being tested before they leave maternity hospital."

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The common tests will reduce bureaucracy and will be welcome, but the Government needs to be sure it doesn't throw away good practice developed by nursery and primary teachers. The view of the profession must determine whether this goes ahead."

The consultation will also look at ways in which parents might be more involved in the assessment of their children.