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Grilled for national tests on the Bard

It's like BBC TV's Question Time and the guests include Brutus and the lean and hungry Cassius, fresh from the business of doing away with Julius Caesar.

Presenter: "What are your objections to the other possible leaders?" Cassius: "Well Mark Antony only thinks about partying."

Putting Cassius and his fellow Romans under the TV spotlights is one way suggested by the new Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for bringing Shakespeare alive in the classroom.

Three booklets sent to schools this week include examples of activities and show how pupils have responded to the material in school trials, as with the youngster who saw Mark Antony, through Cassius's eyes, as a real party animal.

Other suggested activities include organising a press conference for the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream and subjecting the nurse to a grilling over her part in Romeo and Juliet's ill-fated relationship.

The guides are the first attempt to help teachers assess their pupils' understanding of Shakespeare texts taught in the national curriculum.

Last year a report for the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, the QCA's predecessor, revealed inconsistency in the marking of the teacher assessment part of the national curriculum - as opposed to the written tests marked by external examiners.

The report by the Test Development Agency at the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate said teachers needed help setting worthwhile tasks and making sure they were marking them properly in relation to the level descriptions set out for children of different ages and abilities.

Under the national curriculum, all children have to study a Shakespeare play in the three years of key stage 3, from the age of 11 to 14, and one more at key stage 4, from 14 until they take their GCSEs at 16.

The new guidance booklets have been produced for the three plays pupils are now studying at key stage 3.

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