A new grammar test for 14-year-olds was announced by Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday. The review of English tests, which will anger teachers, comes after research from Southampton University showed that school- children were learning more grammar in foreign language lessons than in English lessons.
As Mrs Shephard continued her campaign to placate the Conservative right- wingers, Labour yesterday accused her of making the announcement to try to divert attention from the defeat in the House of Lords late on Monday of plans for a nation-wide nursery voucher scheme.
Mrs Shephard had accepted recommendations from government examination advisers that 14-year-olds, who must all take national tests in English, maths and science, should face an additional exam in grammar, spelling and punctuation.
At present, English consists of two papers, a comprehension and essay and a Shakespeare test. English teachers have campaigned against the Shakespeare paper, maintaining that Shakespeare should be tested by coursework done in class and not by a timed written test.
Observers believe that Mrs Shephard's decision on grammar may be a concession to party right-wingers to pave the way for an announcement later this year that Shakespeare will be tested differently. Coursework assessment of Shakespeare is at present being trialled. However, the Prime Minister, who insisted that GCSE coursework should be cut back, has so far resisted attempts to test Shakespeare in such a way.
The new test, which could be in the form of an unstructured piece of prose into which pupils had to insert grammar, spelling and punctuation, could not be introduced until the year after next but the weight given to spelling, punctuation and grammar could be increased from next year.
Mrs Shephard said she was asking the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority to review English tests "to ensure that they reflect the emphasis the curriculum puts on correct English". …