It is important, however, to distinguish between the papers and marking schemes and the test results. I am not involved in the final marking of papers and thus I am reluctant to judge results .
Since retiring in 1990, I have worked closely with the test development team mainly on the Shakespeare paper, and would certainly not regard papers and mark schemes as vague and unreliable.
Rigorous debates during a complex process of trialling and testing ensure that Shakespeare tasks are clearly worded and are appropriate to different candidate levels, while task criteria for mark schemes are exhaustively scrutinised to ensure that they are user friendly but also reflect the different levels.
Perhaps those who dismiss the tests as an intrusion on "real" teaching time or a waste of time and money could spend more time talking to their pupils.
Pupils fill in a response form near the end of each test: many of them feel that the tests have helped them or will improve their chances at key stage 4. Many produce very praiseworthy written answers that clearly show their appreciation and understanding of a particular test or their enthusiasm and commitment.
Many GCSE English markers feel that they often lack the rigour of KS3 comprehension passages and writing tasks, though their mark schemes are now much more clearly task and criteria based. There seems little point, however, in trying to use KS3 test results to predict GCSE grades, though talent will always shine through.
KS3 tests can provide valuable pointers, especially if they are linked to wider continuous assessment by the teacher. Both KS3 and KS4 help schools to measure their performance against national rather than local standards, surely no bad thing.
Peter King, 118 Brook Drive, Corsham, Wiltshire