Watchdog to put the Bard back into 'dumb' tests

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The Independent Online

Traditionalists condemned it as an example of "dumbing down" when more than half of the Government's new Shakespeare tests did not require students to show they had read or understood the Bard's plays.

After months of defending the tests, the exams watchdog conceded yesterday that they should be reviewed. The move by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was made after English teachers accused it of "dumbing down" the Shakespeare test because only one of its two sections introduced this year required pupils to show they had read and understood any of his plays.

In May, 600,000 14-year-olds took the test. Even before pupils sat the exam, teachers were complaining that the writing paper required little or no understanding of the Bard's work. Previously, pupils wrote one 75-minute essay based on scenes from their chosen play. This year's two-part paper has been split into writing, worth 20 marks, and "reading and understanding" of two scenes of a play, worth 18 marks. In February, English teachers said sample papers of questions from the first section could have been sat without any knowledge of Shakespeare's plays.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, demanded an urgent explanation from the QCA. It defended the test as "rigorous" but yesterday, Ken Boston, the authority's chief executive, admitted that they would be reviewed. No changes can be made until 2005 at the earliest.