THOUSANDS of 11-year-olds are already revising for next summer's English, maths and science tests, a new poll reveals today.
The TES survey of 500 Year 6 teachers suggests that one in seven schools begins revision classes in the autumn term. Nationally, that means some 84,000 children will be revising by Christmas.
Teachers' leaders blame the Government's "unreasonable" targets and league tables for putting pressure on schools.
However, Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, in an interview with The TES, said: "The targets at seven, 11 and 16 are absolutely critical to everything we are about. I cannot imagine a situation where we would be about either removing or weakening those targets."
More children than ever achieved the required standards this year, but not enough to meet the key stage 2 targets. The shortfall was partly responsible for Estelle Morris's decision to quit as Education Secretary last week, as she had said she would resign if they were not met.
Officials now fear the drive to improve maths and English results is running out of steam. This year 75 per cent of Year 6 children achieved level 4 in English for the third year running. In maths, 73 per cent achieved level 4 after a drop the previous year.
But Mr Clarke said he did not believe that the new key stage 2 targets, which require 85 per cent of pupils to reach expected levels in English and maths in 2004, were too demanding.
He said schools should decide when to start revising for national tests:
"You won't find me generally saying teachers should be doing x, y or z in relation to their conduct in the classroom or in relation to their responsibilities. I don't think I'm the right person to do that."
The poll adds to mounting evidence that teachers, under pressure to drive up results, are devoting an increasing amount of class time to test-coaching.
Clare Braddock, a Year 6 teacher at Comber Grove primary in Camberwell, London, said: "As we finish a section of work, I will dig out old test questions on that section and go through them with the class. As we get closer to the exams the time we spend on history and geography goes down and more time is spent on English, maths and science. I think it is better to start a little revision in September, rather than having masses in March."
But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Until local education authorities have the courage to tell government that the targets set are totally and utterly unreasonable we will not see the enormous pressure and strain on primary schools relieved."
The Government's standards unit wants to revive the initiative to raise primary attainment. Under its plan, there would no longer be separate literacy and numeracy strategies. These would be merged into a programme that encouraged teachers to improve performance across the whole curriculum.
The TES telephone poll of 500 Year 6 teachers in England found more than a quarter thought more time should be spent on design and technology, art and music - while 12 per cent thought too much time was spent on English. Those polled felt most confident teaching maths and least confident teaching music.
News, 4-5; Leader, 24