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Heads praise writing papers

As 600,000 11-year-olds recover after a week of Sats, teachers welcome the new diary task. Helen Ward reports

The results of this week's tests for 11-year-olds in England are crucial for the Government - and Alan Johnson, the new Education Secretary.

Ministers have already been forced to delay their target of 85 per cent of pupils reaching level 4 in English and maths from 2004 to this year. But headteachers still do not believe it is achievable.

Last year 79 per cent of pupils reached the grade in English and 75 per cent did so in maths.

This week 600,000 pupils faced tests every day - two papers in science on Monday, a spelling test and writing tests on Tuesday, and a reading paper on Wednesday. They were due to take a mental maths and two written maths papers over Thursday and Friday.

The writing tests, which have proved the most controversial since being rejigged in 2003, seem to be generally welcomed.

The longer, 45-minute test required children to write diary entries by siblings Tom and Sara who had gone for a day out which Tom enjoyed, but Sara did not. Contributors to the TES website gave a flavour of what the markers can expect to read - Alton Towers, the zoo, the beach and "a boy being sick on his sister on a fairground ride". Pupils also had 20 minutes to compile a short report on the fictional Tongo lizard.

Mike Scriven, head of Portishead primary, North Somerset, said: "This is the best set of writing tasks we have had since they introduced the new format.

"Some of the Year 6 boys enjoyed writing the diary and putting forward the other side of the argument. If it had been a straightforward diary it may not have showed boys in their best light."

Peter Sumpter, head of Poplars Farm primary in Bradford, said: "Pupils liked the English paper although some boys complained that it was difficult to put themselves in a girl's situation."

The diary task also won approval from Chris Davis, head of Queniborough primary near Leicester and chair of the National Primary Headteachers' Association.

He said: "The diary is effectively a story, giving opposing views of the same day out. It was quite stimulating and most children seemed to enjoy it."

But some teachers disagreed. R.Temi, also on the TES website, said: "What saddened me was that for so many of them all they could think of for a day out was going into the local town and having a burger - no other experience, poor little sods."

The type of tasks pupils have had to write since 2003 have ranged from a story about a boy in a queue to a speech about changes to the school day, and a play about a boy arguing with his parents over bedtime, which prompted complaints that the questions were unimaginative and biased towards boys.

This reading test, widely expected to be about the World Cup, was about music and included a short biography of Evelyn Glennie, the percussionist, and information about different types of drums.

Last year appeals against English marks reached record levels, with one in seven primary schools wanting a review.

There have been repeated complaints this year about the amount of reading needed on the science paper.


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