Many of Australia's young schoolchildren are falling through the cracks because there is no early national check on how well they know their words and numbers, experts have told education ministers.
The Turnbull government wants the states and territories to agree to national literacy and numeracy checks for Year 1 students as part of a new funding agreement.
On Monday it released its expert panel's report - given to state education ministers last Friday - recommending how these should happen.
The panel, led by the Centre for Independent Studies' Jennifer Buckingham, found while most schools assessed children's skills when they first started, there was no nationally consistent approach and it wasn't mandatory to follow up a year or so after formal education began.
It says nationally consistent checks will pick up at-risk kids early enough that schools can make sure they master basic skills.
"By Year 3 (the first year in which students undertake NAPLAN assessments), it is difficult, expensive, and inefficient to remediate gaps in literacy and numeracy skills," Dr Buckingham writes in the report.
At the moment, about one in 20 Year 3 students aren't meeting minimum reading standards, and the proportion worsens to one in 14 Year 9 students - and one in eight adults.
On numeracy, across the school years about one in 20 students don't meet minimum standards.
The checks would involve short "interviews" between each student and their regular teacher.
The panel saw it as vital the checks not be viewed as "NAPLAN for Year 1 students" and said while individual results should be given to parents, school-level results must not be made public, unlike the higher years NAPLAN data.
"Every effort should be made to ensure that ... data from the Year 1 checks is not used for the purpose of creating school 'league tables'," it states.
The literacy checks can be adapted from a UK phonics test that has been in use since 2012 but a numeracy check will have to be developed from scratch.
If the states agree, the phonics check could be in use from mid-2018 and the numeracy one in 2019.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the panel's report highlighted the need for action.
"By identifying exactly where students are at in their development early at school, educators can intervene to give extra support to those who need it to stop them slipping behind the pack," he said.
"Australia cannot afford to follow the status quo in schooling."
HOW YEAR 1 CHECKS WOULD WORK
* One-on-one session with a student and their regular teacher.
* Done early in Term 3 (July-August).
* Takes under 10 minutes per topic.
* Teacher asks questions from a set list or paper and student responds verbally.
* Teacher records scores on an app on their phone or tablet, so results can be compiled quickly.
* Literacy questions check understanding of phonics.
* Numeracy questions check number sense and position/location.
* Teacher should also record the student's general disposition towards maths.
* Individual results given to school and student's parents.
* School-level results given to relevant education authorities but not made public.