World-class exams will put pupils on fast track

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Thousands of bright pupils will be selected to sit exams and national curriculum tests years ahead of their age group in an initiative unveiled yesterday.

Thousands of bright pupils will be selected to sit exams and national curriculum tests years ahead of their age group in an initiative unveiled yesterday.

The world-class tests, in maths and problem solving, are designed for gifted and talented children aged nine and 13 although they may be sat by children as young as six if their teachers decide they are ready to take them.

They are expected to help teachers to sift out the top 10 per cent of their pupils who can then be "fast-tracked" through the education system.

The tests have been devised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, and are being sat this month by pupils in England, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Ministers hope the tests will achieve two objectives – help teachers to select their brightest children and "fast-track" them through national curriculum tests, GCSE and A-level exams and allow pupils from England to shine in world-wide league tables devised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In the past, British pupils have lagged behind those of most of the other Western countries whose children sit the maths tests.

The tests are aimed at the brightest 10 per cent of pupils and will be piloted on 1,000 youngsters in the five countries this month. Next year, about 100,000 children aged nine and 13 are expected to sit them and examiners will also be devising tests in English, history and languages.

Pupils who sit them will be awarded pass, merit or distinction marks, which will help to determine at what age they will sit national curriculum tests for 11 and 14-year-olds and GCSEs and A-levels.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, said: "The worst thing that we could say is that you can only sit these tests at nine or 13.It is important to get away from the time when there were 29 children in the class who all sat their exams at the same age.

"There will be 10-year-olds who are ready for the tests [designed to be sat] at 13, and the tests for nine-year-olds are bound to be sat by some six and seven-year-olds.

"If we are to compete in a world-class economy, we must identify and nurture the abilities of our children from a very young age. World-class tests give us the means to identify the most able pupils – but they are just part of the strategy. Once spotted, we will then go on to develop and nurture those pupils to engage, excite and challenge gifted children."

Ms Morris rejected suggestions that pupils might be overburdened by more tests or classmates might be jealous of those chosen to take the tests, saying: "Adults are far more worried about those kind of things than children. They enjoy being stretched.

"Also, if you've got an eight-year-old who is a brilliant footballer, there's no way you're going to say, 'He shouldn't be playing for the under-11s'. We have a totally different attitude as a nation to kids who excel in sport to kids who excel intellectually and we've got to change that."

The tests will be set four times a year and schools will be able to access them on the internet. Nine-year-olds will sit two one-hour papers in maths and problem solving. For the 13-year-olds, the tests will last 75 minutes.

Parents can find more information from a website – – or by ringing 08700 101 798.