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English staff angry over 'trivial' test on grammar

The Government's testing agency has announced the start of national trials to examine 14-year-old pupils in grammar, punctuation and spelling.

But it drew immediate criticism from English teachers who predicted that schools will refuse to take part in the pilot scheme for what they described as "trivial little tests".

The announcement is part of the Government's campaign for more rigorous standards of basic literacy and comes in a major package of changes launched this week by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. These include a pilot scheme for testing 11-year-olds on mental arithmetic.

The decision to trial new English tests follows an announcement earlier this year by Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard.

She said that schools must place an increased emphasis on basic English if pupils are to make full use of "our wonderful language".

But Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said that the tests would serve no useful purpose. "We think it's pretty pathetic really. It's really well known - and based on 20 years of research - that you don't teach children to spell or to write grammatically by giving them this sort of test.

"If this initiative were going to be a part of worthwhile research then people would have been happy to come forward. But as it is going to result in very trivial little tests then we don't want to know about it."

English teachers have already been angered by the news, reiterated this week, that the controversial Shakespeare paper will be retained as an externally set exam for 1997. Teachers have been pressing for classroom assessment of Shakespeare as an alternative to external tests. But research by SCAA suggests that teachers' own assessments are too variable to provide accurate results.

However, SCAA has promised to develop "alternative models" of assessment, and to provide guidance to help strengthen teacher assessment.

The other changes announced this week include the announcement of trials to devise tests of mental arithmetic for 11-year-olds at the end of key stage 2. These will be conducted orally.

SCAA will also be publishing age-standardised scales for both English and mathematics at junior school level. This will allow teachers and parents to place their child against national averages much more accurately than before.

At the same time the authority will be publishing information to help teachers assess children's progress at the midway point in key stage 2 (Year 4).

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