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Grammar tests at 14 spelt out

Teachers will be given special packs to help them with the formal sentence analysis demanded by new tests from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

This week SCAA published examples of the exam it will set for 14-year-olds covering grammar, punctuation, spelling and mental arithmetic. There will also be mental arithmetic tests for 11-year-olds.

Surveys by SCAA suggest that teachers are confident about most aspects of writing, but that they would like help with concepts such as "adverbial phrases".

Pilots of the tests will be sat in the summer and the "live" versions are due in 1998. It is not yet known how the results will be published.

The mental arithmetic trials - which give pupils just a few seconds to write the answer - have been popular with three-quarters of secondary schools and two-thirds of primaries due to take part. The English tests, which proved politically more contentious, have had a smaller take-up, with only a third of secondary schools volunteering.

English teachers have been suspicious of the grammar tests. The National Association for the Teaching of English dismissed the tests as a politically-motivated distraction. Ministers have been keen on grammar and punctuation tests after complaints from employers about standards of written English.

A SCAA spokesman said there is a little evidence of a decline in literacy standards, but plenty of evidence that standards are inadequate.

The 50-minute grammar, spelling and punctuation exam requires some technical knowledge of sentence structure such as nouns, subordinate clauses and adverbs. But pupils will also be tested on the relationship between sentences and paragraphs. The sample paper asks them to arrange statements about Linford Christie's early career into a logical and coherent mini-essay.

A SCAA spokesman said: "We think this is a fairly imaginative approach. It focuses on pupils' knowledge, understanding, and their accurate use of grammar and punctuation."

The pilot maths tests give 11-year-olds five seconds to answer questions such as: "Change 9.5 metres into centimetres." Ten seconds are given to answer: "A train journey starts at 7.40. It lasts for 45 minutes. When does it finish?" Maths questions for 14-year-olds will be tiered. The higher level allows five seconds for: "Increase Pounds 60 by 5 per cent." Ten seconds are allowed for writing all the prime numbers between 12 and 18.

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