GOVERNMENT advisers are considering how to boost performance in the early secondary years after concerns that too few pupils are making good progress.
However, pressure must be applied to schools if standards are to be raised, according to a discussion document issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority this autumn.
Advisers suggest publishing national test results for 14-year-olds and adding a key stage 3 progress measure to performance tables to encourage schools to make 11 to 14-year-olds a priority.
Nearly one in 10 pupils who left primary school with the required standard in English in 1995 had made no progress by the time he or she took national tests at 14, according to QCA figures.
Officials suggest that improvement can be achieved by tackling the dip that occurs as children transfer from primaries, setting challenging targets and sharing effective strategies.
More radical ideas include "re-casting key stage 3 as a two-year key stage" and using attainment at 14 to count towards results at 16.
Meanwhile, in a new survey of 750 teachers on testing at 14, nearly two-thirds said they felt forced to "teach to the test", even though this damaged the standard of their work.
More than half of the surveyed English, maths and science teachers said that too much lesson time was spent preparing for the tests, the joint study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the three subject associations found.
Only one third of teachers thought the tests motivated pupils to perform well, while half did not believe they allowed students to demonstrate their understanding of the subject.
The report's authors, the ATL, the National Association for the Teaching of English, the Association of Teachers of Mathematics and the Association for Science Education, argue that a complete review of the curriculum for 11 to 14-year-olds is needed.
ATL general secretary Peter Smith blamed the testing regime for damaging the key stage 3 curriculum. He said: "This is yet another example of policy failure on a monumental scale. These tests were meant to raise standards, bridge the primary-secondary gap, motivate students and improve teaching and learning. Not only does the study show this is not the case but government figures also reveal that the key stage 3 results have barely changed over the past five years.
"There has to be a review of the key stage 3 curriculum and tests, or else we may witness a generation of despondent youngsters who will be put off furthering their education after 16, thus scuppering any government plans for lifelong learning."
The harshest criticism was reserved for the English tests which 52 per cent of respondents believed were marked inaccurately this year.
However, maths teachers had much more confidence in the tests with nearly three-quarters believing marking to be accurate and half agreeing that they were a good reflection of pupils' overall mathematical ability.
An evaluation of the 1999 KS3 tests in English, mathematics and science is available from the ATL on 020 7782 1584, pound;3.99, free to members.