Parents and teachers expressed outrage over the increasing pressure facing young pupils after Ruth Kelly announced tough new targets for five-year-olds yesterday.
The children will have to improve their reading, writing and maths as well as their social skills, physical coordination and creativity under the new targets.
Ms Kelly said that pre-school standards must be raised to ensure that an extra 30,000 children every year reach "a good level of development" by the age of five.
But the new target - for 53 per cent of children to this standard - sparked concern from parents and teachers who warned against labelling youngsters as failures so early.
Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said that the Government should scrap existing tests and targets for young children rather than add new pressures. "This is a terrible thing to do," she said. "It will be extremely stressful for young children and result... sleepless nights and bed-wetting for many youngsters.
"Children develop at such different rates that you could label a child a failure at five and find that three months later they are flying ahead. Parents are only human... they are going to put pressure on their child to improve."
Philip Parkin, General Secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, said that nurseries and child minders must be careful not to introduce too much formal education as it could have a damaging effect on many under-fives.
The aim must be for children to attain their full potential and be supported in achieving it rather than being categorised by failure at an early age," he said. "Introducing formal education too early can lead to disaffection in later years. "Nick Gibb, the Conservative schools spokesman, condemned the assessments as a massive waste of teachers' time.
"Early years profiling is a box-ticking exercise which involves teachers filling in 117 sections of a huge form for each child in the class. It is an enormously time-consuming exercise of no real benefit for children. All these exercises do is to add another bureaucratic burden to their work." However, Ms Kelly insisted that the new targets would not mean toddlers in nurseries sitting exams or being formally assessed. In a speech to the IPPR think-tank in London, Ms Kelly insisted that improving education for toddlers was crucial to their success later in their school careers.
"By 2008 we want to have seen improvements across the country in children's readiness for school at age five," she said. "I'm acutely aware that parents don't want their toddlers sitting exams or undergoing any form of assessment. Nor do I. This will not happen.
"Instead teachers and childcare professionals simply observe children - looking, for example, for enthusiasm for learning and good communication skills.
Ms Kelly also announced a new "aspiration" for raising standards among 19-year-olds. She insisted that 85 per cent of 19-year-olds must get the equivalent of five good GCSEs by 2013. Last year, only 70 per cent reached this level.
Five-year-olds will be expected to score at least six points on a nine-point scale in assessments of their reading, writing, maths, social and physical skills.
* Count up to ten
* Able to describe shapes using words such as circle, corner and straight
* Able to interact with others and take turns in conversations.
* Read a range of words and simple sentences
* Able to write well enough to write for different purposes e.g. party invitations or a letter to Father Christmas
* Shows good motivation to learn
* Able to dress themselves e.g. for a games lesson or outdoor play
* Knows the classroom rules and can explain why it is important to keep them
* Able to throw, catch and kick
* Able to recognise repeated sounds and rhythms
* Able to match movements to musicReuse content