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Take arms against a sea of English test troubles

Encouraged by the Government's post-election promise to listen and the official English 21 review of the future of English, we want to express our concerns about the damaging effects of key stage 3 English tests.

This year's tests, taken by more than half a million Year 9 pupils last week, unnecessarily limit standards of education for pupils in England.

This is why Wales has already made key stage 2 tests optional, and will do the same for KS3 next year. There are alternatives.

This year's papers did not allow all pupils to demonstrate their ability.

The tests' complexity demoralises less confident pupils. The marking scheme is too inflexible, and based on questionable judgements about what constitutes ability in reading and writing. Questions may be hard or easy depending on, for example, which Shakespeare text was studied. So the results will be unreliable.

The papers do not reflect the breadth of the curriculum and are poor value for money, time and energy.

It costs the National Assessment Agency a fortune to recruit markers and we spend 10 times more on tests than we do on books for pupils.

Simply sitting the tests, of course, does nothing to raise standards.

Although we are encouraged to use these tests diagnostically, scripts will not be returned to pupils for four months, so the system is inefficient.

The blind faith in external assessment demonstrates a lack of trust in teachers' capacity to judge their pupils' work. This erodes professionalism.

No sane person would argue that all of this is in our children's interest.

Someone in the system has to have the courage to change it. And the solutions are staring us in the face.

There are several local and national pilot projects which involve teachers from different schools in trials of units of work that are both engaging and challenging. Pupils' answers are jointly scrutinised to ensure teachers are making secure and rounded judgements of work.

The Secondary Heads' Association has already proposed, putting more emphasis on teacher assessment. To do this, it suggests appointing a chartered assessor in each school and setting up a national system of training in examining and moderation. Pupils would make better progress in such a system, which would cost far less. It would also result in teachers who were happier, more skilled and more professional.

Simon Gibbons

Chair 9-14 committee

National Association for the Teaching of English

Craig Morrison

Vice-chair of NATE

Simon Wrigley

Chair of NATE

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