The new "baseline assessments" will emphasise the three Rs and will be used to measure the effect of schools on children's progress, as well as to determine children's needs. Schools will also be encouraged to assess children's physical and emotional development: how they cope on a climbing frame, for example, and how they relate to each other and to adults.
Tests for 7-, 11- and 14-year-olds are already in place and the first performance tables for 11-year-olds will be published next spring.
At present, ministers have no plans to publish performance tables for five-year-olds. Parents will be told their children's results confidentially.
One teachers' union accused the Government of overloading teachers, but another welcomed the decision to stop short of imposing the same national tests for all children entering school.
Instead, there will be national framework against which local assessment schemes will be judged. About half local authorities already assess five- year-olds. Both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to baseline testing.
Schools will be asked to join voluntary assessment schemes from September next year, and trials for the new framework will begin in 360 schools next week.
A national sample of children will be taken in 1998 so that ministers can assess national standards.
Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Education, said: "In our drive to serve our children well and raise standards, it is essential that teachers and parents know what their children have already mastered and what their future learning needs are."
Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, said: "It won't be threatening. It isn't a formal test. It won't be a one-off. During the first half of term, the teacher will make assessments as part of her normal work."
No local scheme will be approved unless it involves parents. Sir Ron said parents might be asked to say whether their children could write letters, count to 10, recognise single words, pull eight bricks out of a pile or draw a picture of a man.
The authority will consult parents and teachers about three alternative schemes for the national framework. One involves only literacy and numeracy, another asks the teacher to match a child's performance to descriptions of skills, and a third requires teachers to write their own descriptions of what children can do.
Sir Ron acknowledged that the new tests would mean more work for teachers.
Mrs Shephard said: "At this stage we are not putting in place a national scheme of assessment but that remains a possibility should it prove to be desirable." Legislation to enable a national scheme to be created is planned.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers said: "The education system is getting more like a public-address system: testing, testing, testing. We think this is overloading the system. We should not mind if they were going to drop tests at seven." The union would support members who refused to carry out the tests on grounds of workload, he said.
But Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The Government has at last moved its attitude from if it moves test it. I welcome the introduction of baseline assessment which allows local education authorities and schools to develop their own accredited schemes."
Labour responded to the announcement by accusing the Government of stealing its clothes with a policy already being pioneered in many Labour-run local authorities.
Parents were celebrating yesterday after a 150-year-old village school reopened following a fundraising campaign which raised more than pounds 40,000.
The campaign followed a decision last year by the local education authority to close the school - which serves 14 pupils aged between four and eight - as part of a rationalisation programme involving 13 other schools in rural Warwickshire.
Parents, some of whose families had attended the school in Priors Marston for five generations, fought the decision, and with the approval of the local church - which owned the building - they gathered the support of the local business community and began a campaign to save the school, and make it a non-fee paying independent institution, with charitable status.
The money raised is only enough to keep it open for a year but David Adams, chairman of the appeal fund, believes the village will ensure its future. New headteacher Brenda Edwards said she had been overwhelmed by people's generosity. "It is a lovely atmosphere here and I am privileged to be a part of it."
What your child needs to know in the first year of primary school
Tick list of literacy and numeracy skills:
Holds books appropriately while turning pages and retelling story from memory.
Uses memory to match some spoken and written words.
Recognises letters by shape and sound.
Reads familiar words in a range of contexts.
Reads simple texts.
Uses symbols and letters.
Writes name with appropriate upper and lower case letters.
Hears sounds in words and writes corresponding letters in sequence.
Attempts to write sentences.
Attempts to spell unfamiliar words.
Creates own pattern.
Orders objects by size.
Matches similar objects to one
Counts objects accurately.
Counts objects accurately.
Adds and subtracts objects.
Solves addition and subtraction