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Pupils' notes wiped off exam texts

Schools will have to foot the bill to ensure that students take unmarked books into their English GCSE. Julie Henry reports.

SCHOOLS will have to check that students take unmarked books into English exams because too many pupils are using notes scribbled in margins to answer questions.

Books have been allowed into English GCSE exams since the qualification was introduced in 1988. A few O-level syllabuses also permitted it.

But the Government's exams watchdog will outlaw annotated texts as part of changes to English and English literature GCSE courses from next September. Editions with copious footnotes and information will also be banned.

A spokeswoman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said: "Any written text taken into the exam must have the permission of the exam board.

"Students have at times tended to rely on their notes and used them to answer questions even if their answer was not really relevant."

The new rule will please traditionalists who claim that exams are getting easier. Dr Bernard Lamb, chairman of the Queen's English Society and lecturer at Imperial College, welcomed the move, describing annotated texts as tantamount to cheating.

"Texts in exams are a relatively recent development," he said. "It is a very good idea that only clean texts will be allowed."

Schools' book bills could rise as pupils will need two sets - one for classroom use and a "clean" one for exams.

Awarding body OCR has agreed to supply extra poetry and short story anthologies to schools which are following its courses, and the other boards are likely to follow suit.

Simon Wrigley, secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "The financial implications could be a problem for some schools, but most teachers would not defend students over reliance on annotated text."

According to Mr Wrigley, pupils' notes do not help the middle-ability band of students, in particular, as they are distracted by them.

From this September, English literature students will be able to study non-fiction for the first time. Agreed books include Michael Palin's Pole to Pole, and Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.

Pre-1914 prose, by authors such as Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, will no longer be a requirement for the English GCSE, but the specification remains for literature.

The new specifications are a substantially watered-down version of original QCA proposals to create separate English literature and English language papers. At the moment English GCSE is a mixture of both.

The plan could have meant that students taking English language were no longer examined on a Shakespeare text. The proposal caused uproar and was vetoed by the then education secretary David Blunkett.

But many English teachers feel the current English GCSE is dominated by literary texts, which count for a small proportion of marks in the exam, and does not pay enough attention to film, television and the Internet.

A QCA review of the standard of English GCSE from 1995 to 1998 found the exam had become more demanding. Last year there were nearly 667,000 entries for English GCSE and just over half earned a C grade or better. English literature GCSE had 500,000 entries with 56 per cent achieving A* to C grades.

From 2003, the national curriculum English test for 14-year-olds will be split into a reading and writing paper, mirroring the test for 11-year-olds.

`CHEATING' NOTES

* Students highlight text with different colour markers drawing their attention to significant lines.

* Similes and alliteration in poetry are underlined and the words written in the margin.

* Examples to show the author's use of humour, irony and tragedy are highlighted.

* Students jot down quotes from other literary works that might be useful.

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