Exams 'should penalise poor grammar'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

An urgent review of marking in all GCSE and A-level exams to penalise poor grammar, spelling and punctuation was demanded by the former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson yesterday.

An urgent review of marking in all GCSE and A-level exams to penalise poor grammar, spelling and punctuation was demanded by the former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson yesterday.

Mr Tomlinson, the head of a government inquiry into exam reforms, said he found it "difficult to defend" the current practice, in which marks are not deducted for poor spelling and grammar. His comments follow complaints from universities about the standard of English among undergraduates.

Research by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, has also drawn attention to the poor quality of written English in exams.

Mr Tomlinson told MPs that employers no longer knew whether even a candidate with an A-grade at GCSE English could master the basics.

"If we wish to take seriously the standard of written English in examinations, then it should be considered part of the marking to look at grammar," he told the Commons Education Select Committee. "At present no marks are deducted for poor grammar and spelling as long as what is written can be understood by the examiner.

"We need to protect written English. I think the quality of written work in examination papers that I've looked at in recent years certainly has deteriorated."

Mr Tomlinson said that candidates should be rewarded for good grammar. That could either be done by penalising poor work or granting extra marks for good grammar. "Obviously, it is most essential to tackle this in English - but it could extend to other subjects as well." Mr Tomlinson praised the new literacy and numeracy programmes in primary schools - which place emphasis on good grammar and mental arithmetic skills. "My 11-year-old grandson knows the difference between a noun, a verb and an adverb which his father certainly didn't," he added.

He said this approach needed to be extended to GCSE maths exams. "I think one of the earliest things that the Government needs to do is to look at GCSE maths," he said.

Mr Tomlinson said one of the problems in the UK was that it was almost a "badge of courage" for people to boast that they were bad at maths. That is seen to be a good thing in this country," he added. "In others, it is not."

Mr Tomlinson's inquiry recommends replacing GCSEs and A-levels with a new diploma incorporating much of the content of present exams. Buy compulsory key skills tests and a 4,000-word extended essay to develop thinking skills will be added.

"At present it is possible to get five good A* to C grades at GCSE [the measure of success used by the Government] without studying maths or English," he said. "It is possible to get the five by only studying two subjects." Some vocational qualifications, such as information and communications technology, rank as the equivalent of four GCSE passes.

Mr Tomlinson said it was also possible to pass a GCSE by getting 100 per cent in two questions and nought per cent in two others. This would not be the case with the diploma, where a student would have to pass three basic skills tests - in literacy, numeracy and communication. The Government will announce its decision on his proposed reforms early in the new year.

Comments