Letter: A testing system

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your headline '14-year-olds better at maths than science' (22 December) could hardly be more misleading. Pupils did better in last summer's pilot tests in maths simply because the maths tests were better devised than the science ones.

Whereas the maths tests sampled in a balanced way the new syllabus which had evolved relatively smoothly out of previous good practice, the science tests sampled more arbitrarily the new science syllabus which was revised nationally while teachers were introducing it to their classes, and, moreover, represented a marked difference in approach to previous classroom practice. At this school we look forward to next summer's maths tests with confidence, but to the science ones with trepidation, since we have no indication how much the testers will have learnt from the pilot.

The testing of national curriculum subjects across 10 levels is an ambitious and complicated undertaking that, whatever politicians for their own purposes may suggest to the contrary, will need some years of trial and error before it settles into forms which genuinely deserve the confidence of parents, pupils and teachers.

For this reason above all, headteachers are now campaigning for national curriculum tests in English and technology to have the status of pilots and for the summer results to be treated with the caution they deserve. At this stage, the priority for testing is the tests themselves, not the pupils.

Yours faithfully,

H. M. ROBERTS

Headteacher

The Cherwell School

Oxford

22 December

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