We are unanimous in opposing the new English national tests and urge the National Union of Teachers and National Association for the Teaching of English and London Association for the Teaching of English to support departments like ours by calling for a boycott of the new key stage 3 exams in May.
We are currently re-designing our GCSE course, pushing through changes introduced at the end of the last academic year. The National Literacy Strategy is still bedding in. We know the ASA2 mish-mash may soon be altered again.
Now in the middle of this teaching year we are expected to re-write our Year 9 curriculum. We are being asked to double the Shakespeare requirement (for a reduced percentage of the marks). We are having to design practice papers, adding more testing, more mock exams, more practice papers, and more stress for staff and students alike.
We do not speak about this matter from a position of ignorance. We were involved in the pilot of the optional tests for Years 7 and 8 in 2000-1, and gave detailed feedback on the format that was then being used. We are dismayed to see that the same tired and narrow format has been recycled without regard to our concerns.
The tests themselves represent a total dead-end in terms of the skills required beyond Year 9 at GCSE and A-level English. The mark scheme for the reading component is reductive; nuances of meaning are disregarded in favour of shallow "naming of parts"; the questions are as much designed to test the students' knowledge of critical and grammatical terminology as their understanding of the text itself. The sole advantage of such a test format is that it can be marked by non-specialists - or, perhaps, in the future, by machines.
We further suspect that it is we who are being tested to ensure that we have covered the narrowest aspects of the NLS objectives.
Yet we have nothing to prove. Our department's results at KS3, GCSE and A-level are outstanding - and were identified as such by inspectors in September. Our students love the subject because of the way in which we teach it: our uptake for AS and A-level is by far the highest in the school, and among the highest in London.
We are not willing to jeopardise those results or our pupils' enjoyment of English by wasting our time training Year 9 children in narrow and arid skills that they will not need beyond these tests.
We urge you to support our request for a boycott.
Geraldine O'Mahoney, Jon Bradshaw, Lise Bird, Anna Silsby, Maureen Housden, Kate English, Soren Hawes, Cameron Sayers, Tim Joyce, Siobhan McCauley and Jon Nicholls
Thomas Tallis School English department
Kidbrooke Park Road, London SE3