Inspectors say teachers are having to test children as young as four in addition to foundation-stage profiling. Helen Ward reports
Children are having to start school even younger to give teachers time to fill in 117 tickboxes required for the Government's tests for five-year-olds.
A highly critical report from the Office for Standards in Education says the new national assessment wastes teachers' time, is too complicated for parents and does not prepare children for Year 1.
Teachers are also having to give children extra tests because the assessment does not provide the information they need.
Ofsted described the foundation-stage profile, which was introduced last year, as "bureaucratic and time-consuming" and said that some schools were proposing to change admission arrangements so that it could be completed in time.
Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter university, said: "The foundation- stage profile is a grotesque waste of everybody's time. It is screamingly self-evident it is crap."
The new assessment system with its 13 nine-point scales asks teachers to decide whether a child meets criteria such as, "understands that people have different needs, views, cultures and beliefs that need to be treated with respect".
Previously schools had a choice of 90 schemes to assess children when they started school.
But although the foundation- stage profile was intended as a replacement for baseline assessment, Ofsted said it does not provide the same information.
The study of 46 schools in spring, summer and autumn 2003 found many conducted a baseline assessment as well, significantly increasing workload.
Inspectors found the profile took between 60 to 90 minutes to complete, once a teacher had become accustomed to it, compared with the expected 35.
The report said: "Teachers have not found (the profile) easy to use or helpful enough in supporting transition and making judgements about pupils'
It was also considered too complex for parents - three-quarters of schools said it would not replace the conventional report.
Ofsted decided to investigate how pupils coped with the move from reception to Year 1 after growing awareness of the need to improve this transition.
It found eight in 10 schools would embark on the national curriculum at the start of Year 1, even if they felt some children were not ready. The report added: "The sense was of provision which swung heavily and suddenly, for all pupils at the beginning of Year 1, towards literacy and mathematics".
David Bell, chief inspector, said the report made "worrying reading".
"The majority of teachers do ensure children make an effective transition to Year 1," he said. "What we are saying is there are issues which are not making it as easy as it could be for teachers."
Professor Wragg said: "Most schools had a better system of assessment. To say a child can do this but not that, and then to label a child at four or five as not good at maths or English has been one of the blackest spots in our recent educational history."
A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "This report covers the first year of implementation and the first year is always more challenging.
"The profile is the right mechanism to record children's progress at the end of the reception year."
Transition from reception to Year 1 www.ofsted.gov.uk
WERE NO LESSONS LEARNED?
Sue Dix believes the foundation stage profile is impractical.
The head of Westerhope first school in Newcastle said: "I know the great and good in early years helped in its development but it seemed from the outset to be an unwieldy means of gathering information.
"It reminded me of the early stages of the national curriculum when we tried to keep checklists on everything. That way lay disaster, did they not learn anything from that previous assessment fiasco?"
Westerhope was last inspected in 2000 when the Office for Standards in Education praised its excellent early-years education.
The report said: "The two reception classes are attractive and engaging places in which children can learn."
It also noted that teachers monitored and kept records on the children.
Mrs Dix said: "My advice to teachers (when the profile was introduced) was to carry on with what they had been doing in terms of collecting evidence and if we found we had gaps, we would devise a system for filling them.
"While assessment is at the core of working out what children need to do next, recording it in this way is not practical at all.
"My staff have had to complete the profile at home because there is just not enough funding to release them for it."