Education ministers, teachers and parents do not always agree on curriculum content but all accept that mastering basic English skills before they go to secondary school, is a necessity for all children. Children encounter lots of new subjects at secondary school, many of which require the ability to communicate and write clearly so instilling these skills early is very important.
In December 2011, it was reported that an eighth of primary schools failed to reach a minimum Government target for getting 60% of their pupils to read, write and add up properly by the age of 11. Under performance in reading in particular, was of grave concern because a worryingly large number of schools consistently failed to reach the floor standard over a five year period. The Government has therefore decided to act by introducing a new test which focuses on essential English skills. It is hoped that teaching students these skills in preparation for the test will improve spelling, reading and punctuation among children leaving primary school.
The new Key Stage 2 English test will be introduced in May of this year. While it is designed to improve the standard of literacy among Year 6 pupils, it also aims to improve students’ chances of succeeding in important qualifications further on in their education. For example, from this year onwards, marks will be awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar in key subjects at GCSE level. Therefore, it is vital that children have a good understanding of each of these things when they begin secondary school.
Teachers are expected to adapt their teaching to the new test using their own judgement. There is no new material among the test content; everything included is within the current curriculum. Therefore, teachers who already put some emphasis on spelling and punctuation for writing composition need not make too many changes. Vocabulary quizzes, spelling tests and comprehension exercises however, are good resources to check a classes’ English level.
In terms of marking, the section of the new test which concentrates exclusively on grammar, punctuation and spelling will be externally marked. Writing composition, as it always has been, will be judged by teachers. This is because teachers, who know their pupils, are in a good position to make a broad judgement based on a child’s work across the whole of year 6.
Teachers will also be expected to take the student’s use of grammar, punctuation and spelling into account while marking this section, alongside the child’s writing ability. Overall, the test mostly concentrates on writing ability in general and using these basic English skills in order to compose a written piece. However, there is also an assessment of vocabulary and word meaning in context which has up until now been encompassed within the reading curriculum.
Ultimately, the new test should not mean many changes for primary schools across the UK, particularly as the content is not new. Mostly it just alters the focus of teaching the English material already within the curriculum.
Hopefully doing this will improve the average literacy standard among year 6 pupils so that when they reach secondary school, they are prepared.