“Batty” English examinations – Sunday Times

Batty English examinations – Sunday Times, April 7th  My response was published in the letters page today, April 14th:

Expecting ten and eleven year-olds to answer these questions is like expecting a candidate for a driving license to explain the dynamic forces that work on a vehicle in motion. It is pointless. These tests involve cleverness for its own sake, which ill matches pupils’ real needs.

This the full text of my letter:

Your headline, “Batty grammar test” was right. (News p.22 Sunday April 7th)

Expecting ten and eleven year-olds to answer these questions is like expecting a candidate for a driving license to explain the dynamic forces that work on a vehicle in motion. It is worse than “batty”: even were candidates coached sufficiently to provide correct answers to these questions there would be little point in the process. Just as we require people to drive safely and competently, so we need young people to be able to read intelligently and write accurately and effectively.

A better understanding of aspects of English may help to improve performance – I explain the need for clear punctuation by demonstrating that need; strip out punctuation from a passage of writing and then ask pupils to read it aloud. They soon learn. These new tests involve cleverness, to impress for its own sake, which ill matches pupils’ real needs. It is one thing to teach grammar, it is another thing to teach about grammar.

The OECD monitors literacy and numeracy standards among young adults in thirty developed countries. Two generations back the UK was top of that table; we are now bottom. Sadly, it would seem that the National Association of Head Teachers will only be calling on the government to make these tests optional when politicians should be told not to interfere so readily in the running of schools.

An introduction to my new English text book can be seen at: https://www.peterinson.net/better-english/

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