Alarmed at this year's key stage 2 test results, which saw only slight progress in English and a decline in maths, the Government has decided to raise the "expected" standard of achievement for infants - to boost their later performance at age 11.
Teachers are being told that a straightforward "level 2" in key stage 1 tests is no longer sufficient. Instead, they should be aiming for a 2A or 2B, as this is a good indicator that children will go on to achieve a level 4 at key stage 2.
Thousands of parents are to learn that their seven-year-olds are not "on target" after all.
Teacher unions are warning that the move could demoralise infant teachers, and depress schools' apparent performance at KS1.
KS2 test results published earlier this month showed a disappointing rise of only 2 percentage points in the number of children achieving level 4 in English. Results in maths were down by 3 percentage points. The figures raised questions about whether the Government is on track to hit its national targets of 80 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving level 4 English and 75 per cent reaching the same standard in maths.
Since 1986, level 2 in KS1 tests has been sub-divided into A, B and C. Currently, around 80 per cent of seven-year-olds achieve level 2 - but only 62 per cent are scoring at level 2B or above for reading, and the figures are lower still for writing (48 per cent).
A letter from the Curriculum and Qualifications Authority, notifying headteachers of the KS1 changes, is due to reach schools early next week. It says children achieving level 2A or 2B generally go on to reach level 4 at KS2, whereas children reaching 2C struggle to meet the KS2 target.
"I should stress that the standards of performance required to achieve the different grades at KS1 remain the same as in previous years," it says."What has changed in the light of the evidence is the expectations of what children need to achieve in order to make the progress necessary to meet the national targets at KS2."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The only reason for going down this road is to urge primary teachers to work harder. But since they are already working all the hours God gives, I think it's going to fall on stony ground."
"The QCA is in grave danger of writing off at a stroke all those children who achieve level 2C."
John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This is a spurious quest for precision. It throws into sharp relief the crudeness of level 4 at the end of KS2."
Copies of the assessment arrangements booklet are available from the QCA,tel 01787 884444.