Birmingham's pilot "baseline assessment" scheme involved a representative 115-school sample of primaries last autumn, with teachers assessing five-year-olds' basic skills during normal classroom activities in their first term in reception. Nearly one in 20 (4.6 per cent) of Afro-Caribbean children performed at the levels expected of six or seven-year-olds, compared with one in 28 (3.6 per cent) for white children.
The city's national curriculum tests at seven for 1992 and 1994 also showed black children ahead - a finding at odds with other studies.
David Bartlett, assessment co-ordinator in Birmingham, said it was unclear why Afro-Caribbean children did better. He suggested high expectations by parents and the popularity of Saturday schools for black children as contributing factors. While the study shows, as do many others, that children with nursery education do better, this was consistent for all ethnic groups. But for children from deprived backgrounds or those whose first language was not English, it made even more difference.
The second year's data are now being analysed. The scheme was established to provide a baseline to judge what schools have done for their pupils by the time they sit national curriculum tests at six and seven. This will not be known until summer 1996.