Catalogue of irrelevances

30th June 1995 at 01:00
If there were any doubts about the folly of the Government's decision to remove responsibility for GCSE assessment from teachers of English and to entrust it to the examination boards, the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board English paper 2 (alternatives A and C tier Q) set on June 12 must surely remove them.

Until three years ago I was providing stimulus material for my creative writing coursework from the writing of James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, Graham Greene, John Donne, William Shakespeare.

The NEAB provides a photograph of a grinning teenager standing on a burning door in a derelict yard and asks for a story about a "dare".

What suggestion is there here of wit, of plot, of invention? Indeed, what has happened to the entire concept of stimulus material? What message about literary writing does this wretchedly impoverished stimulus give to the majority of teenage candidates? I just swallowed hard and prayed that my pupils had the sense to ignore it utterly.

To ignore, also, the feebly irrelevant material provided for the "informative writing" section of the paper. Here, candidates were asked to "use the information provided" to write an advice sheet for parents to help them reduce truancy among their children.

Again, I prayed that they had the wit to ignore weeks of advice about reading the stimulus material carefully, analysing the subtext, thinking carefully about implications. For to me, an adult graduate in English with more than 20 years' teaching experience, 90 per cent of the material was irrelevant to the task, and the only logical deduction to be made from the official report's quoted assertion that "the most important source of truancy is the schoolcurriculum itself", especially PEgames and French, would be the advice to all parents "withdraw your child from lessons which heshe does not like".

Read the paper, Mrs Shephard, and see whether you still trust the boards to raise standards in English.

J R DINHAM Head of English King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys Vicarage Road Kings Heath Birmingham

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