Anthology set for English tests gets hostile reception: Schools receive compulsory texts for 14-year-olds as teachers protest and actors give help with Shakespeare

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The Independent Online
ALL 14-YEAR-OLDS in state schools will have to answer questions on a collection of poems and extracts from plays and literature ranging from Dickens to the Caribbean writer Samuel Selvon in national tests this summer.

The 46-page anthology, which is being sent to schools this week, will form part of the first tests in English for 600,000 14-year-olds to be taken in June. It has been published a month early after protests from teachers about delays in receiving details of the tests, which have been revised three times over the last two-and-a-half years.

English teachers said the anthology, based on the seasons and the journey through life, was, with one or two exceptions, predictable and unimaginative.

Lord Griffiths, chairman of the School Examinations and Assessment Council, which is publishing the anthology, said: 'I have every confidence that this anthology will provide a worthwhile study of literature and be a sound basis for the tests. There are writers of all kinds and periods ranging from Chaucer and Blake to Philip Larkin and Laurie Lee.'

All pupils will study four extracts matched to their ability and any three others as part of a reading test that will include comprehension and questions on a Shakespeare play. Candidates will be allowed to take the anthology into the exam room.

They will be asked to compare the different literary styles of at least two texts, for example the way authors deal with childhood adventures or the seasons. Those of low ability, who are not required to study a Shakespeare play, will have to answer questions on the 'all the world's a stage' speech from As You Like It and only the most able children will be tested on The Importance of Being Earnest. All will study David Copperfield and Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie.

Lord Griffiths emphasised that the test material was being published early to help teachers plan but said they should not use it until the last few weeks before the exam. 'The last thing we want to do is to encourage schools simply to teach to the test.'

Anne Barnes of the National Association for the Teaching of English thought the list could have been drawn up in the Fifties. Selvon was describing 'a slightly dated experience' though Walcott and Lessing were good choices. 'Pupils are being presented with a list half of which they will have read already and half of which is a gesture of reverence to the national heritage which they can't relate to.'

English teachers were concerned about the principle of using extracts, she said. 'If you are going to do The Importance of Being Earnest, surely you should do all of it. I don't think most 14-year- olds are at the right stage to be interested in two isolated characters, the knight and the squire, from Chaucer.'

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'It is pure hypocrisy of Lord Griffiths to exhort teachers not to teach to the test. The market will judge schools by the test results. You cannot impose market forces upon schools and then expect them to ignore them.'

The anthology comprises:

'All the world's a stage' from As You Like It by William Shakespeare, A Haiku Yearbook by Anthony Thwaite, Infant Sorrow by William Blake, Yesterday by Patricia Pogson.

Extract from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, the Village School from Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, extract from Dorothy Wordsworth's Diary, The Daffodils by William Wordsworth, Home Thoughts from Abroad by Robert Browning, Through the Tunnel by Doris Lessing, Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.

Cut Grass by Philip Larkin, A Hot Day by A S J Tessimond, A Drink of Water by Samuel Selvon, The Knight and the Squire from the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (with modern translation), extract from The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, The Young Wife by Derek Walcott, To Autumn by John Keats.

Autumn by John Clare, November Night, Edinburgh by Norman MacCaig, Cynddylan on a Tractor by R S Thomas, Hard Frost by Andrew Young, Winter the Huntsman by Osbert Sitwell, extract from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, My Grandmother by Elizabeth Jennings, They Discourse with an Old Man (from Rasselas) by Samuel Johnson, Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare.

(Photograph omitted)