Time spent on tests to be reduced after teachers' protests: Papers cut to seven hours and marking system simplified

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TESTS for 14-year-olds in English, maths and science have been slimmed down after protests from teachers that they were too time- consuming and too prescriptive, it was announced yesterday.

About 600,000 pupils in England and Wales must sit almost seven hours of tests next May instead of the 10 hours prescribed this year. However, teachers' unions said last night that the boycott of national curriculum assessment which caused the collapse of this spring's tests would continue.

It emerged yesterday that fewer than 200 of the 4,500 secondary schools in England and Wales completed this year's English tests and submitted their results to government assessment advisers. The future of next year's tests still seems uncertain.

English, the subject which caused the most controversy this year, has been revised more radically than maths or science. Questions on an unpopular anthology of literary extracts have been dropped, but pupils must still sit a compulsory Shakespeare paper. In it, they will answer in-depth questions on a pre-set scene to which they will be able to refer in the exam.

Ten per cent of the marks in English will be for handwriting and grammar, but grammatical exercises and questions requiring one- word answers, which infuriated teachers last year, have gone. Instead, pupils will answer open- ended questions that allow them to use their judgement. For example, they might be asked to say how they feel about an article or poem.

Sample papers published yesterday will go to schools in the next week. English teachers have been told which scenes will be tested from Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Each pupil must sit two one-hour papers in maths and science, plus two English tests, one of 90 minutes and one of 75 minutes. Compulsory tests in history, geography and technology have been dropped.

More than 90 per cent of pupils will sit the papers, although there will be separate classroom tasks for the less able and extension tests for the exceptionally bright.

Officials at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority said yesterday that they had simplified the tests and their marking in order to reduce teachers' workload, and that teachers would be able to use more professional judgement in marking than they were this year. League tables for seven and 14-year- olds have been dropped.

Parents will be told which stage their child has reached on the 10- level national curriculum scale.

Last night, teachers' union leaders gave a mixed response to the new tests. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'It is only when we can assess any reduction in workload, after we have had a chance to analyse the educational soundness of the arrangements and to consult our members that we will be able to say whether the boycott continues throughout the year.'

Gillian Wood, assistant general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which is still boycotting the tests, said: 'After the past few years of constant upheaval, teachers will be broad- minded about this and will welcome knowing where they stand.'