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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 18:53 GMT
Higher grades for infants' tests
boy doing test
The most tested children in the world
Pupils as young as seven in England could be competing to achieve new, higher test grades.

The expected grades
Age 7: Level 2
Age 11: Level 4
Age 14: Level 5
The idea is going to be tried out in this year's national curriculum tests in May.

A head teachers' leader said schools should reject this latest "tinkering" with the system.

Under the plans, the top-scoring 11 year olds would be awarded a 5*. The level expected for their age is a 4.

More changes

Fourteen year olds could get a 7* in English and 8* in maths - the required minimum is Level 5.

And the seven year olds might have a Level 3*, whereas the average expected at that age is Level 2.

In the 2001 tests, about 28% of 11 year olds achieved at least Level 5 - the level expected of pupils three years older.

There is no mechanism for measuring whether any did better still.

If starred grades came in, the existing "extension" tests for the brightest would be scrapped.

Writing tests

Last year 60,000 pupils aged 11 took them - out of a total of about 250,000 - and fewer than 3,000 passed.

Ministers are also considering proposals from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for different writing tests for 11 year olds.

Writing tests have been controversial, with some head teachers claiming they have been far harder than the reading tests - and the inspectorate, Ofsted, saying the problem was poor teaching.

There is already an A* grade at GCSE level. Last month it emerged that ministers had rejected the idea of doing the same at A-level, in response to the growing numbers getting the top grade.

Instead they want to see a new "distinction" grade - apparently scrapping the "advanced extension awards" due to be taken for the first time this year, which will offer merit and distinction grades.

'Demotivating'

But head teachers' leader David Hart has poured scorn on the idea of adding a starred grade for the youngest.

"Not only do we seem to be determined to have the most over-examined system in the industrialised world, but we also seem to be bent on demotivating bright children who have achieved one hell of a lot but haven't achieved a starred grade," he said.

It is his belief that the QCA has been influenced by private prep schools wanting to show that they do better than state primaries - many of whose pupils now all routinely get the level expected for their age.

Mr Hart said teachers should oppose the plan.

"There's no way that the Department of Health would be able to ram through changes to medical practice," he said.

"Let's stick with what we've got instead of tinkering for the umpteenth time with the testing system."

See also:

05 Dec 01 | Education
League table ups and downs
05 Dec 01 | Mike Baker
Results stall in affluent shires
02 Jul 01 | Education
Maths goal for teenagers lowered
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