The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is introducing the foundation stage profile in January 2003. It will be used to sum up children's developments and achievements in the year before they start compulsory schooling.
It will replace the system which allows schools to choose from 90 different "baseline assessment" schemes when pupils start school.
The foundation stage profile will enable early-years practitioners to record children's achievements in six categories.
These are the personal, social and emotional development; communication, language and literacy; mathematical development; knowledge and understanding of the world and physical and creative development.
There are goals in each category. For example children should be able to speak clearly, confidently and audibly and be able to count up to 10.
Children are graded on a nine-point scale with the first three points for development which means they are still working towards the goal, points four to eight which are within the goal and point nine for development beyond it.
The QCA has stressed that the numerical results will not be used to draw up league tables, although schools will be able to compare their results to the national picture.
Nansi Ellis, early-years adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "We are concerned about an assessment scale. If you give a child a score, then you can say this year 70 per cent of children achieved that score. But if in another year 50 per cent of children achieve the score, it makes the stakes higher. It increases the pressure on staff."