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Pupils face tests on Shakespeare and spelling at 14

ALL 14-year-olds are to be tested on a Shakespeare play and English grammar in national curriculum tests next year, John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, said yesterday.

Mr Patten showed that his approach to the English curriculum would be traditionalist by describing the tests, which will also include an unseen comprehension and reading, as 'real education'.

The Government is looking at ways of rewriting the national curriculum for English to give more emphasis to grammar and spelling and to make teachers use more traditional methods.

Last month, Mr Patten called on schools to pay more attention to grammar and spelling and accused some English teachers of leading children 'up an educational blind alley'.

Pupils will be asked questions on a standard anthology of short stories, poems and extracts from literature, which they will study before the exam. Mr Patten said: 'Many excellent teachers already highlight these areas, and I am grateful to them, but I want these themes to become universal.'

The Government wants to change the English tests, which were tried in some schools last month, and it is inviting fresh tenders for next summer's tests.

Mr Patten, who described maths and science pilot tests for 14-year-olds held in the first week of June as a success, said yesterday that changes in English were needed 'to secure rigour and a proper test of the breadth and depth of pupils' reading'.

The tests will contain questions on a set Shakespeare play and on a collection of poems and extracts to reflect the breadth required by the national curriculum. There will be tests of basic reading skills, including grammar and vocabulary, comprehension and imaginative writing.

Critics of English teaching in schools, including the Prince of Wales, have complained about the disappearance of Shakespeare from some GCSE syllabuses.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'It's all very well Patten pontificating about teaching Shakespeare to everyone. I suggest he should go and try and teach Shakespeare to some of our budding football hooligans.'

On spelling, he said: 'If you can get to be vice-president of the United States without knowing how to spell potato, surely spelling can't be that important.'

Sheila Dainton, assistant secretary of the Assistant Masters' and Mistresses' Association, said: 'Shakespeare is fine. It is already studied in many secondary schools. As for poems and short stories, whatever happened to the novel? I am concerned by the increasingly interventionist role of the Government in dictating the components of the national curriculum without proper consultation.'

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that some children might have difficulty in adapting to the new approach in time for next year's tests.

The enjoyment of reading must be encouraged through a balanced approach - over-emphasis on one skill might harm a child's development, he added.