THE chief inspector is privately pressing the Government to abandon its targets for primary schools next year.
David Bell and other senior figures from the Office for Standards in Education have warned ministers that the targets are counter-productive and unattainable.
Primary heads' anger at the Government's insistence that 85 per cent of 11-year-olds should reach the expected level in English and maths by 2004 is growing. Many say they binned a letter from Stephen Twigg, the schools minister, telling them they must try harder to improve results.
A senior Ofsted source said officials had tried to persuade the Department for Education and Skills to drop the targets, but that the concerns had been shrugged off. "The one thing that distresses me is that ministers are still set on the national targets for 2004," he said. "It defies common sense."
He said the targets were clearly unattainable, and that pressuring schools to meet them could reduce the quality of education for children and narrow the curriculum.
"The targets are becoming counter-productive. But they still remain in the background in the new national strategy."
Parents from Charles Clarke's Norwich constituency have joined the revolt.
Nearly 200 parents and grandparents from two schools have signed a petition accusing the Government of damaging education by its obsession with testing.
Ruth Hooper, a midwife, who has two sons, aged six and eight, has collected signatures from parents at Avenue middle school. She is joined in her opposition to the tests by Patrick Yarker, a teacher at Taverham high school who has collected 150 signatures.
Ms Hooper said: "Like a lot of parents, I was inititially sold the line that children would not notice the tests but they cause real stress to pupils, parents and teachers."
The proportion of 11-year-olds who achieve a level 4 in English and mathematics tests has remained at around 75 per cent for three years.
An official report for the DfES last month said the 2004 primary targets were becoming counter-productive and narrowing the curriculum. However, Mr Twigg remains adamant that the targets should be met.
An Ofsted spokeswoman could not comment on whether members of the watchdog had urged the Government to drop the targets.
"The role of the chief inspector of schools is to advise the Secretary of State for Education on current education issues." she said.