Letter: Why English tests should be postponed

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The Independent Online
Sir: Headteachers of all secondary schools have just received a letter (dated 16 December 1992) from the School Examinations and Assessment Council, which claims to answer the many queries about the 1993 English tests for 14-year- olds to be held on 7 and 9 June. What this fails to acknowledge is that schools are unable to respond to innovations that have to be implemented midway through an academic year.

The SEAC issued booklets to schools at the end of November, giving detailed advice and guidance about all aspects of the 1993 assessments. But by this time the Year 9 pupils to be tested were more than a third of the way through their academic year. At this stage schools learnt that the Shakespeare text would only apply to the upper bands. This presents enormous difficulties for schools who have organised their teaching groups in mixed-ability sets because it means that not all pupils will be following the same programmes of work.

The same booklets listed the novels for pupils being entered for tiers 3-4. Many have been generally in use with younger children. Schools choosing books from this narrow list could only order in December 1992, and at the time of writing no supplies of texts have come through. Schools are therefore in the position of having had directions from SEAC that they cannot implement.

This raises the question of what exactly is being tested. Clearly schools that happen to hold book stocks matching the reading list requirements, or which teach children in sets according to ability, will have a practical advantage over schools still waiting for books or which teach in mixed-ability groupings. In this case the results derived from national testing will not reflect abilities of children; they will reflect the different organisational systems decided upon many months before SEAC issued its booklets.

If it is the Government's intention to provide an objective assessment of all schools' performance, then it would be sensible to postpone the tests in English for a further year and to treat this year's tests as a pilot. This would give schools the breathing space they need to adapt teaching arrangements and resources to the requirements supplied by SEAC. In future years we would then be comparing like with like, and published results of pupil achievement would have some meaning. Such a measure would help allay the anxieties of parents about the fairness of the test proposals.

Yours sincerely,

A. D. BURKE

Head of English

Aston Comprehensive School

Sheffield

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