Five-year-olds to face tests on the three Rs

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Children starting primary school in September will be tested during their first term on the three Rs and on skills such as tying their shoe laces, in the pilot year of national tests for five-year-olds.

Schools across the country were yesterday invited to participate in the scheme, which will prepare the ground for compulsory national assessment at five from September 1998. The programme will slot the last piece into the Government's testing jigsaw, which already includes national tests for pupils at seven, 11 and 14.

Announcing the pilot scheme yesterday, Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, said the new "baseline assessments" would help primary schools to identify children's learning needs and measure progress.

But although she stressed the importance of gauging the success of schools in "adding value", Mrs Shephard refused to rule out future publication of league tables of national test results for seven-year-olds.

She said: "Certainly it would be my desire to be as open as possible about the measurement of the output of the education system, so that would be a longer-term aim."

Teachers have resisted school performance tables - already in use for GCSE and A-levels and being published for the first time for primary schools next month - on the grounds that they offer bald results without revealing the distance travelled by pupils. Ministers have no plans at present to publish tables for five-year-olds.

Consultation of schools and parents by the Government's curriculum advisers revealed widespread support for baseline assessment, which is also supported by Labour.

However, parents were keen that children's oral skills and personal and social development should be given more emphasis. Draft examples of the assessments issued by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, developed after trials in 360 schools, include sums using pictures of buttons, sound-recognition exercises using pictures, such as cars and birds, and tests on identifying written numbers. Children will also be assessed on practical and personal skills, such as washing hands and ability to share in a group.

However, unlike the national tests for older children, baseline assessments will not be identical across the country. Local schemes, already used by half of all primary schools, will be permitted. But they will have to meet strict criteria in a national framework, now going out for final consultation.

Announcing the pilot year yesterday, Mrs Shephard predicted that a uniform, nationwide testing scheme would eventually emerge, but added: "We should not de-skill, or devalue, the perfectly good schemes already existing."

The assessments, expected to take no more than 20 minutes per child, should not overburden teachers with extra work, she said. The Government will provide pounds 8.5m to fund training and support of teachers in carrying out the tests, to be completed within a child's first term at primary school, after around seven weeks. Schools will be expected to involve parents closely, and will pass on results confidentially, in the form of a score for each element or an overall result.

The tests are also intended to help schools identify children with special educational needs and assess those for whom English is a second language.

The National Union of Teachers yesterday raised concerns over the decision to record test results in number form. The union also called for the pounds 8.5m funding to be devolved to schools to pay for supply cover during the assessments.

What every child should know


Predict words and phrases in a familiar book during a

reading session with a teacher. Recognise the initial sounds of words as a teacher names pictured objects.


Write their own name legibly and correctly without help,

using capital and lower case letters.



Take turns in discussion and

listen to others without



Count out objects, and

recognise numbers from sheets of numerals up to ten.

Write out numbers to ten without copying. Begin to use the language involved in

addition and subtraction,

using worksheets of sums

illustrated with buttons

(illustrated below).



Show a generally happy

attitude to coming to school, with no need for support from others. Contribute

confidently and

enthusiastically to class

discussions. Concentrate on a task such as drawing for at least ten minutes without

supervision. Perform daily tasks such as tying laces and

washing hands.