Schools say writing test was dull and unsuitable

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The Independent Online

Almost half of schools surveyed believe this summer's national writing tests for 11-year-olds were tedious and unsuitable, an official evaluation has concluded.

The survey of nearly 300 schools found that the most able students had been dissuaded "from any attempt at creativity" by dull and unchallenging tasks.

The tests, which were sat in May by 600,000 pupils in England, were offered in a new form this year after a review of all national tests at ages 7, 11 and 14. But the official evaluation for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, found that nearly half of schools asked thought the writing task was inappropriate.

Nearly two thirds of schools reported that the changes to the tests had made them worse. One of the writing tasks was condemned as "very poor" by 23 per cent of teachers, with a further 26 per cent describing it as "fairly poor".

Almost half of teachers said the tests failed to motivate or interest pupils with 44 per cent of the respondents describing them as fairly or very poor for boys and 47 per cent for girls.

Children's lack of engagement with the tests may have contributed to this summer's disappointing results.

Only 60 per cent of 11-year-olds reached the required standard in writing - no improvement on the previous year - which contributed to the Government's failure to reach its target for English this year.

Writing scores were also poor for the brightest students - only 15 per cent of students were judged to be performing two years ahead of their age, a drop of two percentage points on the previous year.

Ever since children sat the tests, the writing task has been criticised as too dull to inspire good stories. Headteachers also argued that it seemed harder for students to achieve the highest scores.

The children's author Philip Pullman, who looked at the paper for a teachers' journal, described it as "very boring - a task of stupendous futility".

The test for 11-year-olds now requires pupils to do two pieces of writing. Previously, children had 45 minutes to complete one task from a choice of four.

In the new tests, children were given 20 minutes to write the words for a radio advertisement to persuade people to buy a new toy.

The evaluation - conducted by researchers at Manchester University - concluded that some children had been baffled by the task because they had no experience of radio.

In the longer, and more unpopular, part of the test entitled "The Queue" pupils were given 45 minutes to write a story based on four cartoon-style pictures showing people waiting to go into a toy shop.

The pre-test piloting had not revealed any problems, a spokesman said. Children had been "engaged" and come up with "some lively responses", he added.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority caused another furore this year when its new Shakespeare test, taken by 14-year-olds, was condemned as "dumbing down" because pupils could gain more than half the marks without demonstrating that they had read any of his plays.

The authority was forced into an embarrassing climbdown earlier this month when, after months of defending the tests, it admitted that they would be reviewed.

The researchers conducted their evaluation through a survey of nearly 300 schools and focus groups for the different subjects and ages.