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Tests for brighter pupils too hard

Optional papers go on web as even the cleverest 11-year-olds struggle to reach the highest level. Helen Ward reports

More than 50,000 exercises designed to challenge the brightest 11-year-olds have been downloaded by teachers - after formal tests were scrapped because they were too hard.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority scrapped its level 6 extension tests for 11-year-olds this year, partly because most children found them too difficult.

Children who pass the tests are working at the level expected of someone in the first year of their GCSEs. But to enable teachers to assess whether their pupils had this ability, optional tasks were published on the web.

To date, 19,940 science tasks, 18,207 English tasks and 14,555 maths tasks have been downloaded from the QCA's website, almost an entire set for each primary in England.

Children thought to be working at level 6 in science, for example, were given a newspaper-style excerpt about the death of the Egyptian king, Amenhotep III. The king died from an infection after his teeth became eroded from grit in his bread.

Pupils were asked to write instructions for separating grit from each of the four main ingredients of bread - salt, flour, water and fat - which would leave the ingredients ready for use. Their answers could then be used to assess their understanding.

Sharmans Cross junior in Solihull downloaded the tests. Headteacher Angela Henderson said: "We had a child who got level 6 in both English and maths in 2002. This year we had a child who probably would have reached level 6.

"I agree with stopping the tests. There is an argument about how realistic it is to have them when so few children achieve that level."

Celia Botham, head of Kinoulton primary, Nottinghamshire, did not download the exercises. "I think it is preferable to see how the children work at level 5 rather than test for level 6 for which they haven't done a programme of work."

Neither did Andrew Carter, head of South Farnham primary, Surrey, where two pupils achieved level 6 in maths last year, but he said he thought bright children should be able to do the tests.

He said: "Optional tests are fine, but the results are not reported. If a child achieves level 3, and that is the best they can do, we celebrate that. In the same way we must celebrate children who are very clever."

In 2002, 3,000 of the 35,000 children who sat extension papers in maths gained level 6.

In science, 1,000 of the 20,000 who sat the paper gained level 6 and just 300 of the 25,000 children aiming for level 6 in English made it.

Level 4 is the expected standard of an 11-year-old. This year 75 per cent of 11-year-olds reached level 4 in English and 73 per cent did so in maths.

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