Setting a level for writing that is unachievable

28th March 2003 at 00:00
Eddie Poyner is quite right to highlight the current muddle about 5-14 writing (TESS, March 21). Indeed, he could have produced, undoubtedly, even more evidence to undermine HMI's self-appointed status as "champions" of writing.

It should not be forgotten, for example, that HMI - far from promoting achievement in writing, or any other language activity for that matter - originally offered nothing at 5-14 for pupils who had already achieved level E. Pressure from parents and staff led to "activities beyond level E" being developed, which finally became level F.

It should also be pointed out that when they did come up with a writing programme for level F, HMI defied logic and common sense by introducing a critical essay - at every other stage viewed as a test of reading - as the national test of writing at level F. Why ? The answer must surely be that, because the standard at level E writing is already so high, they could not comfortably set criteria beyond it.

It should be accepted by now that the target of "most" pupils achieving level E in writing by the end of S2 is simply not realistic. It cannot, currently, even be met by the highest achieving state school in the country, a school which regularly achieves the best pass rates at Standard grade and Higher.

Why is this? The truth is that a pupil who regularly attains a level E standard in writing is already producing writing which at Standard grade would be, at worst, borderline Credit. This exalted level of performance should not be the target for "most" pupils in S2.

The statistics and professional opinion have demonstrated this for years.

It is time for HMI and the Scottish Executive to face up to this and stop castigating schools and staff for failing to achieve the unachievable.

Donald Gillies

Airthrey Avenue, Glasgow

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