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Relief turns to alarm over tests

Relief in the early-years world that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's targets for five-year-olds were not overly prescriptive, and largely based on good practice, turned to alarm the day after the launch when John Major revealed that he intended to use them as a basis for testing five-year-olds.

These tests would provide a foundation for judging the "value added" by primary schools when children were assessed at the age of seven and 11.

"It raises serious concerns and adds a whole new dimension," said Wendy Scott, vice-chair of the British Association of Early Childhood Education. "It has sharpened the feeling that the Government must couple its plans with investment." Children could be unfairly labelled, particularly those coming from disadvantaged situations. There were alternative methods of assessing young children.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said heads favoured baseline assessment if it was used to inform teachers. "If the Government is seriously saying there should be baseline testing for five-year-olds, then the NAHT would be opposed, if it's anything of the order of what we see at key stages 1-3." He felt the targets themselves were "rather bland and banal".

Some observers argued that training of early-years workers was now more important than ever. "These proposals need high-quality staff and premises, " said Melian Mansfield of the Campaign for State Education at SCAA's launch. "This has to have an impact on the voucher scheme. It requires a lot of equipment and skills."

There were few complaints about the proposed outcomes, although some critics saw them as representing too limited a view of children, and others said equal opportunities and cultural differences were missing from the plans.

But now that they could be turned into tests for five-year-olds, concerns are bound to arise about the difficulty of some aspects of literacy and maths.

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