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'As good as the better efforts'

Children's laureate Michael Morpurgo tried the writing test for 11-year-olds for size. Helen Ward reports on his assessment of the exam and we print his answers below

NOT quite top marks, but a probable level 5, is the official verdict on Michael Morpurgo's key stage 2 writing test.

The new Children's Laureate sat the exam along with 200,000 11-year-olds two weeks ago.

He described the test as "bland", his reaction as "panic" and his story as "fairly ordinary". Overrunning the exam time by 10 minutes, the prize-winning author of such modern children's classics as The Wreck of the Zanzibar and The Butterfly Lion confessed he had sat staring into space as he racked his brain for inspiration.

Although his paper cannot be given a level until the threshold scores are announced next month, his marker is confident Mr Morpurgo would have got a level 5 (the highest possible, and comfortingly for the laureate, above the standard expected for age 11).

The writing test was in two parts: a long task in which entrants had to write a story based on four pictures of a boy queuing for a toy outside a shop before grabbing the final box at the same time as a girl; and a radio advertisement for a new toy.

Mr Morpurgo was awarded the full 31 marks for the long task.

The marker, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: "I think the writer has done very well with four bland pictures - it is as good as the better efforts of Year 6 children but they managed it within the time limits!"

He used varied sentence structure, mostly accurate punctuation, clear text structure and organisation and fluent, adult handwriting.

But on the short piece (see box, right), he gained eight out of the 12 possible marks, dropping most in the category "composition and effect" where the marker said Mr Morpurgo had included insufficient content and detail to merit higher marks.

She added: "The writer seems to have struggled with this piece but radio adverts are an unusual genre. Many children have also struggled with this task."

He did not take the spelling test.

Mr Morpurgo said: "I wanted to make the point that this sort of testing is not serving children very well.

"We really should move to coursework and teachers' assessment, that puts less stress on children and teachers and allows teachers to educate more deeply and widely in the last year of primary school."

Letters, 25

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