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Starred grades for brightest infants

Children as young as seven could be picking up starred grades in national tests from next year.

The scheme, which is being piloted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, would be aimed at the top 1 or 2 per cent of primary pupils.

Infants who gained top marks in English and maths would be awarded a 3*: the average seven-year-old is expected to achieve level 2. High scoring 11-year-olds would get a 5* (expected level 4). Fourteen-year-olds (expected level 5) would be able to reach for a 7* in English and science and an 8* in maths.

The tests will include questions designed to examine the depth of pupils'

knowledge, but no extra time will be allowed.

Ministers are waiting to make a final decision pending the outcome of trials.

The move came as education minister Stephen Timms visited America to look at its gifted and talented academy in Baltimore. An English equivalent for the top 5 per cent of children will be set up at Warwick University this year with pound;60 million government funding. The Excellence in Cities programme allocated pound;60m this year to schemes for such children.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said teachers would be cynical about starred grades.

"The logical extension is that schools will be compared on their stars. The critical thing about assessment is telling you where to go next in your teaching - not cramming pupils to get stars because the school is going to be in trouble if you don't."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Children should be encouraged to go for levels 56 or 78, if they can achieve them. Introducing a starred grade is wholly inappropriate," he said.

The current extension papers for bright primary children will be axed because few schools use them, most pupils fail them and they are very expensive to administer. Last year, extension papers were taken by 60,000 11-year-olds, at pound;40 each. Fewer than 3,000 passed.

Tim Cornford, QCA's head of assessment, said the papers required pupils to have knowledge of key stage 3 material, but most primaries lack the resources to teach to this level.

He added: "The reason that we are proposing starred awards is to recognise the highest achievers."

Other changes to key stage 2 national tests include the abolition of the handwriting test. Pupils will also have to complete two compulsory writing tasks - one fiction and one non-fiction - instead of the current choice of one from several options.

The QCA has also been asked by ministers to design a "distinction" A-level to challenge top performers and make it easier for universities to distinguish between straight A students.

About pound;1m has already been spent developing advanced extension awards. World class tests for nine and 13-year-olds are also available.

America's academy, 13 Excellence in Cities analysis, 26

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