Blunkett adds spelling tests to literacy drive

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is to launch national spelling tests for all pupils in primary school as part of its literacy drive. The informal tests will be set by national exam advisers to run alongside the national tests for those aged 7, 11 and 14.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is expected this week to publish official lists of difficult spellings as part of new guidance to schools designed to overcome weaknesses in writing revealed by national literacy and numeracy tests.

Seventy per cent of 11-year-olds reached the expected standard in English in this year's tests, up from 65 per cent on last year. The Government's target is 80 per cent by 2002.

But the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which sets and monitors the tests, highlighted weaknesses in writing scores that suggest writing skills such as spelling are not improving at the same rate as reading. The proportion of 11-year-olds reaching the target standard in reading was 81 per cent, up from 71 per cent. In writing, however, only 56 per cent reached the expected level, a rise of only 3 points.

National English tests for pupils aged 7, 11 and 14 already assess spelling as part of written work. The new spelling guidelines will not replace the national tests, and it will be up to schools to determine when and how they are set. Most are expected to run tests through the year rather than as an end-of-year exam.

Eleven-year-olds are expected to be able to spell complex words with several syllables, be able to use apostrophes and recognise irregular words and technical terms such as vowel and consonant.

The guidance will supplement the detailed plans already issued to teachers showing them how to run the national literacy hour.

Teachers have criticised the literacy hour as too prescriptive. Yesterday union leaders dismissed the spelling tests as irrelevant, insisting that daily and weekly spelling tests were already a feature of every primary school.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The Government wants to spend its time advising teachers to do what is already done. This is just the Government going for headlines. This is not about helping education. Schools already ensure that their pupils are tested in school."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I do not think in the vast majority of schools there's need for more tests or more bumf."


Spelling targets

Age eight: rhyme, gnash, knuckle, wrapper, rhino, chalk.

Nine: Machinist, corrosive, occasional, necessary, epidemic, handkerchief, resurrection.

10: Cylinder, cistern, deceit, circumnavigate, illiterate.

11: Xenophobia, auditorium, aerodynamic, archaeology, claustrophobia.