THIS year's Northern Assessment and Examination Board's GCSE English paper 1 has again raised serious questions about the difficulty of the reading material presented to candidates taking the foundation-level paper.
As last year, one passage was common to both tiers. In 1999 the reading difficulty of the common passage rated 10 on the FOG Index of readability. This year this dramatically increased to 15. (For anyone unfamiliar with this rating scale which does not employ reading ages, The Times magazine rates 11, Lord of the Flies 9, and Of Mice and Men 6).
Each tier also included a second passage, different but both taken from The Guardian. Inexplicably, these were of exactly the same difficulty: 13 to 14 on the FOG Index.
Last year, each tier had two further passages. While the two passages in the higher tier rated 11 and 12, hose in the foundation tier rated 15 and 18!
The quantity of text to be read also altered this year. It almost doubled, from 867 words in 1999 to 1,529 words this year.
It is difficult to imagine any comparable alteration in difficulty and demand in any exam being implemented in this unannounced and apparently arbitrary way.
Are the examiners aware that they are failing to differentiate? What was the point of two papers of similar difficulty? Did they realise just how difficult the passages were?
Both the candidates who faced an unfair test, and the teachers who have to make difficult decisions about entries deserve better from the board that currently assesses over 80 per cent of English candidates.