Schools are clamouring for more tests, government advisers on exams and the curriculum said yesterday.
At present, national tests in English, maths and science are compulsory at the ages of seven, 11, and 14 and from this September all five-year- olds will be assessed.
There are no plans for more compulsory testing but this year nine out of ten schools are using optional national tests for nine-year-olds.
Advisers from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are also piloting English and maths tests for eight and ten-year-olds. Nick Tate, the authority's chief executive, said there had been a "cultural shift" in teachers' attitude to the tests. Whereas, they had originally been greeted with widespread hostility by the profession, 90 per cent of teachers of 11-year-olds now believed that they were valid and 88 per cent thought that the results were reliable.
Dr Tate said: "There is clear evidence that teachers find the tests useful and that is a big turn-round from only a few years ago. That indicates a big cultural shift. We are piloting tests at ages eight and ten this year as a result of demands from teachers who want to be able to measure their progress towards the Government's targets."
But Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "There should be no assumption that because schools seek to be part of a pilot, that the concept of national tests every year is supported by teachers. I invite Dr Tate to test his conclusion by conducting a survey questioning teachers on their support for the current national tests, additional tests and their desire to have the increased workload more tests would generate."
Ministers have set tough targets in maths and English for the year 2002.
Pilot tests for nine-year-olds last year showed that half of children did not make the expected progress.
In maths, only 59 per cent reached the level expected compared with more than 80 per cent at seven. In reading, 67 per cent reached the standard expected compared with 78 per cent at seven. In writing the comparable figures were 58 per cent and 80 per cent and in spelling 55 per cent and 60 per cent.
Reports from the authority on last year's tests for seven-, 11- and 14- year-olds highlight the areas which children need to improve. At both nine and 11, pupils' performance in mental arithmetic tended to be worse than their performance on the written papers. At 14, Shakespeare is a success story; 62 per cent of 14-year-olds studied Romeo and Juliet and often produced sophisticated responses.
Examples of the most frequent incorrect spellings for some words in the spelling test for 11-year-olds:
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