She also said that new tests in technological ability for 11-year-olds could help the Government's business-sponsored technology colleges select their pupils in future. Launching a new research project to develop the tests, Mrs Shephard said the project was designed not to assess knowledge or skills but aptitude.
Under the new tests, children would be assessed on skills such as hand- eye co-ordination and spatial awareness. Their results could determine whether they are allowed to enter one of the country's 196 specialist state schools and colleges.
The research, carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), will initially work on tests for technological aptitude but could be extended to other subjects such as languages. Mrs Shephard said that children who had never studied a foreign language would be able to take such a test as easily as one who had.
Opinion among headteachers invited to yesterday's press conference was divided. Frank Green, principal of the Lincoln School of Science and Technology, a grant-maintained school supported by 50 companies, said he would be interested in using the tests. His school already used NFER tests with 12- and 14-year-olds to monitor progress and was considering using them as a selection tool for 11-year-olds.
Hazel Farrow, principal of Loxford Technology College in Redbridge, east London, said she would not use them. "In terms of the future of the country, it is the average child who needs to have these skills. I think those with aptitude will gain them anyway. I want to increase those skills in the population in general," she said.