No consistency, no meaning

13th August 2004 at 01:00
Once again, teachers and their unfortunate 11-year-old pupils have experienced the anomalies and inconsistencies of the key stage 2 English tests, in particular the longer writing test.

Three years ago we had a choice of four writing tasks, last year we had a story to be written based on four pictures - a task most teachers would consider suitable for seven or eight-year-old children. This year, after justifiable criticism, we had a far more demanding task, asking children to consider a radical change in the school day, starting at 7am and finishing at 1.30pm.

This, I felt, was difficult but not particularly daunting for my pupils, who this year had discussed and written about the proposed ban on hunting with dogs and the merits and demerits of the monarchy. Why these issues? They are issues of current debate and therefore relevant.

As one of my pupils remarked after the test, "it was quite interesting, but was it real?" An apt comment; it is not, to my knowledge, part of the Government's constant agenda of change in education, to alter the school day radically.

Sadly, pupils were simply asked to state their views on this issue and write down what they would say in assembly. They were not privy to markers'

instructions: "Better performances are distinguished by a convincing explanation of the writer's chosen viewpoint", or that they should "seek to engage and persuade the reader".

I found it unsurprising that my most articulate, literate and reflective children express mixed views, perceiving many advantages and disadvantages in such a proposal; I can myself.

Interestingly, the most creative and able children decided to invent their own solution, a compromise. School started at 8am and finished at 2.30pm, with a revised timetable and a variety of after-school activities.

This, naturally did not meet the pre-conceived criteria of the marking schedule. Why did those responsible for delivering this task not think of instructing the children to decide and persuade?

What does it matter? Probably not a great deal. Next year, perhaps we will return to a storyboard and there will be an "improvement" in children's English in time for the next general election.

While these inconsistencies prevail, the levels are meaningless and the tests themselves a waste of the education budget.

Dr Heather Meacock St Bernard's preparatory school Hawtree Close Slough, Buckinghamshire

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