English teachers have hailed Government plans to drop the controversial grammar tests for 14-year-olds as a victory for good teaching.
But the Government's curriculum advisers said that teachers had been unable to cope with the technicalities of teaching grammar.
The surprise move came in a low-key government announcement of further pilot tests for 14-year-olds incorporating grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Although the pilot is being extended, the existing format for the controversial grammar test has been dropped. The tests have provoked widespread anger among English teachers who believe them to be inflexible and outdated.
A letter to ministers from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority says: "The test has attracted criticism, notably from the English teaching associations.
"Responses from schools involved in the pilot and other evidence indicate a general preference for the assessment of these aspects of English to be carried out as part of a broader assessment of reading and writing, rather than through a separate test."
Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "It does suggest there is real new thinking going on. The authority was heavily pressed upon by the Conservative government to go back to the basics, the old, mechanical way of teaching grammar and punctuation. This is a victory for good teaching, and English teachers do have long experience of how to help children improve their grammar, spelling and punctuation, and it is time their ideas were listened to."
The authority's national pilot on grammar tests showed teachers were unsure about the best ways to teach grammar, particularly sentence structure. SCAA also thought the new compulsory tests would increase workloads, and it advised the Government to rethink them.
The decision to trial new grammar tests was announced last year by former education and employment secretary Gillian Shephard, who said schools must put more emphasis on basic English if pupils were to make full use of "our wonderful language".
But English teachers complained that while it might be easy to learn sets of grammatical rules, it was much harder to understand them and put them into practice through children's own reading and writing. They argued for a much more rigorous and intelligent type of assessment.
The authority says that the redesigned tests would have to be trialled because they are so different from the 1997 pilots, and would be introduced in 1999.