Entry tests for first graders applying to magnet schools will be banned, and schools holding them will risk paying a fine or losing their licenses, the Education Ministry announced yesterday.

Among the schools to be affected by the decision are the prestigious Tel Aviv art and nature schools - the Tel Aviv School of the Arts and Teva School. "There is no moral or scientific justification for exams for 5-and-a-half-year-old children," an official at the ministry told Haaretz.

The schools were notified of the decision through formal letters sent from the ministry in Jerusalem. The letters said the exams conducted at the art and nature schools "contradict the values of the ministry," and asked that the matter be addressed urgently, since school registration for next year has begun, and the exams are part of the registration process.

Magnet schools in Ashdod and Sderot will also be affected by the decision.

The Tel Aviv magnet schools were set up in the mid-1980s, at the initiative of then municipal education director Shimshon Shoshani, who currently serves as the director general of the Education Ministry. The reason these schools require entry exams is that they receive many applications. Parent fees at these school can reach NIS 11,700 a year.

Entry exams at these schools - widely attended by children of celebrities, high-ranking government officials and business leaders - are run by the Karni Institute and are similar to the psychometric tests taken when applying to university. Sources at Teva School said yesterday that the exams tested important characteristics, like intelligence and the ability to study using innovative methods. The Tel Aviv School of Arts website notes that the "psychological examination" are meant to test the cognitive and creative abilities of the child. "Categorizing children and deciding on their intelligence and creative ability at such an early age is highly problematic," said Professor Orit Ichilov, of the Tel Aviv University School of Education. "The exams are culturally biased and filter out children who don't come from educated families and who don't have the required cultural wealth. Albert Camus, for instance, would not have passed them, because his family wasn't educated."

A ministry official told Haaretz that schools that refuse to comply with the new directive risk losing government funding as well as their right to accept students outside their registration area.

Although entry tests are already formally banned by the ministry, the two schools in Tel Aviv have continued to require them, with the support of the Tel Aviv municipality. Until now, senior officials at the Education Ministry have turned a blind eye to the phenomenon. "The question is whether Shoshani, who set up the schools in Tel Aviv, will give the necessary backing to implementing the ministry's official policy," a source with close knowledge of the issue said.

Shoshani himself made a less dogmatic statement through the ministry's spokesman's office. "All schools carrying out selection processes will have to go through a special committee," he said, which will be empowered to approve, ban or amend any such process. The Tel Aviv municipality said yesterday that it opposed the new enforcement, saying in a statement the tests were a legitimate method for checking a child's suitability to these schools.