So-called baseline assessment tests for pupils aged four and five were too crude to identify the potential of the brightest pupils, the Commons education select committee heard. Experts on gifted children told MPs that up to two-thirds of schools were failing to stretch the 280,000 children thought to have special talents.
The baseline assessment tests are designed to give teachers an idea of pupils' abilities when they start school. But critics of the tests say they put too much pressure on young children.
The tests, which becamecompulsory for children starting primary school this September, assess pupils' ability to recognise and write the numbers 1 to 10, write their own names, recognise letters by shape and sound, and concentrate without supervision for 10 minutes.
Ian McNiff, chairman of the pressure group Children of High Intelligence and headteacher of a Hampshire primary school, said the tests measured children's abilities, not their potential. He said: "My experience is that the tests do not pick up high potential. Baseline assessment does not show if a child can read a book completely."
He said independent tests at his school had shown that one child in six was in the top 2 per cent of the national ability range. He said the school was blessed with an unusually gifted year group. "I don't think we know how able children are. It is quite staggering. I have had children come into school with a reading age of 14. I once had a girl who had read Little Women at the age of four."
The group is devising a series of intelligence tests based on computer puzzles and games, designed to spot children with special abilities.
Peter Carey, director of the National Association for Gifted Children, called for government guidelines on the best way to help gifted children.
He warned against pushing gifted children into academic "hot house" schools, and said that "accelerating' children by moving them up one or two years at school could be counter-productive.
Mr Carey said many ordinary comprehensive schools offered an excellent education to very bright children.
He said: "We do have difficulties with some of the less well-run independent prep schools. They seem to be particularly home to highly directed and didactic teaching, which is very stifling of creativity in the very high ability children. A lot of parents feel that small village schools are the answer to their high-ability children, but there is some disappointment when they go in."Reuse content