Letter: Teachers kept in the dark over new English tests

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AS SECONDARY English teachers we are writing to express our concern at the extremely poor administration of the tests in English which 14 year olds are due to sit next June.

Information on the tests has been late and inadequate. We are expected to make entries this month for three tiers of tests without having seen any specimen papers.

Information has been contradictory. The guidance notes state in one paragraph:

'If a pupil does not achieve the lowest level in an attainment target in the tier of tests for which he or she is entered, that pupil cannot be awarded a level . . .'

The next paragraph reads:

'If pupils do not fulfil the requirements of the lowest level in the tier, the mark schemes will allow assessment at the next level below . . .'

This matter is particularly important to mixed-ability teaching groups.

There have also been too few examples of assessed work. We have seen nothing below a high Level 4 and nothing above a Level 7. And despite ministerial pronouncements on the importance of Shakespeare, lower-tier candidates are not going to be tested on a complete play text. Some of the alternative texts for lower-tier candidates do not appear to be suitable for 14-year-old pupils.

Lower-tier candidates are allowed to have texts with them in the tests; those studying a Shakespeare play are not. This discrepancy means that the tests cannot possibly be 'a rigorous and standard measure of what children know and can do'.

The arrival of lists of set texts in October presented English departments with substantial demands on their budgets which have already been stretched by the revised GCSE syllabuses and which, in many local authorities, are being severely cut.

Some departments are simply unable to provide sufficient texts.

If the tests for 14 year olds are to be anything other than an expensive charade, these problems must be addressed immediately and effectively.

Gordon Johnson

Monkseaton High School

on behalf of all North Tyneside

Heads of English