English in the News: Tom Rank Surveys Media Coverage of English

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It's official: doctors show that reading is good for you. Just flicking over this page in the search for something more worthy improves motor skills--though perhaps not as much as when you were two. The Guardian reported Boston University's Professor of Paediatrics Barry Zuckerman as saying: 'You can imagine if someone technologically came up with a widget that would stimulate all aspects of a two-year-old's development, everyone would want to buy it.' Well, Professor, perhaps not if they can't develop elaborate reading schemes, expensive training programmes and then national tests to ensure every child's reading is placed in a league table. At least there was some good news for Reading Recovery, which was described as 'particularly striking' by Schools Minister Andrew Adonis and, more reassuringly, by an Institute of Education study.

Sats all folks!

There was no such harmony over national testing--spring brought a perfect storm of protests. A committee of MPs claimed 'the national testing system in English schools is being misused to the detriment of children's education', as the BBC reported, whilst only one in ten pupils passed pilots of the new national tests and Heads fumed at a SATs 'nightmare' of unworkable computer systems, failed markers and 'own goal' questions. A question in the English writing test, could, a union official commented, 'turn out to be a spectacular own goal. It asked children to write about their best memory of school this year--to which many replied, "It's been the worst time of my life, revising for SATs." It's not just the pupils who feel failures; one contributor to the online discussion reported: 'The KS3 markers went through their standardisation training last weekend and ETS's computers said they had all failed. Then that they had all passed, which is equally unlikely.' American firm ETS, freshly appointed to this expensive contract, assured schools that problems preventing schools from registering were solved and results would be delivered on time. Only a Machiavellian would, of course, wish them ill in the hope that this might be the last straw.

'In spite of this,' Peter Mortimore wrote in the Guardian, 'the government appears to be in denial. It is pressing on with its test-led agenda regardless of mounting evidence from advisory committees, academic experts, thinktanks, the teacher unions and even, at times, Ofsted.' And sure enough, Schools Minister Jim Knight defended school tests in the same paper, saying 'they are vital in preparing children for high-stakes GCSEs and A-levels even though,' he added, 'it might be a slight level of stress.' It might be quite a lot of stress, actually, if the poor subjects of this ongoing experiment saw the The Times headline: 'GCSE and A level exam results inaccurate, Ofqual warns pupils.' Give up now, kids, or you might end up in an outfit with a name as dire as Ofqual, which sounds as though it should be a cure for sea-sickness or diarrhoea. What the chair of the new quango Ofqual, Kathleen Tattersall, had revealed was called by The Times 'an open secret in the world of education', that 'the public had a "simplistic" expectation that the marking system should be "perfect"'--not quite the same as implying that all results could be wrong.

A-level for the Harry Swotter: exams are being Dumbledored Down.

As if uncertainty about the marking weren't enough, even A Level texts aren't what they used to be. The Daily Mail reported that 'Harry Potter has taken his place alongside such greats of English literature as Shakespeare's Hamlet and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and is required reading for A-level English students ... And students will have to show an understanding of J.K. Rowling's use of language, described recently as gibberish by a High Court judge.' Perhaps, as this is for a Language and Literature specification, comments on language are particularly appropriate? Two days later the Sun had caught up on the story. …