The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0340 Monday, 24 April 2006
Date: Saturday, 22 Apr 2006 23:40:30 -0700
Subject: High Scores without Shakespeare
Brush up your Shakespeare: for a pass you need to know ... nothing
Julie Henry and Chris Hastings
The Telegraph, April 23, 2006
His work, he once said, would live "so long as men can breathe, or eyes
can see" - but 14-year-olds sitting the national English test next month
can now score zero on the Shakespeare section and still achieve a pass.
As a result, experts fear that William Shakespeare, who is believed to
have been born 442 years ago today, St George's Day, 1564, and whose
plays have been central to the study of English literature for
generations, is in danger of being eased out of the curriculum.
Changes made to the examination last year mean that, despite the boast
of Sonnet 18, the Shakespeare paper - one of three taken by 600,000
14-year-olds - now barely counts in the overall result.
It is worth only 18 out of a possible 100 marks. Prior to the changes,
questions on the Bard were worth 38 marks in the English test.
As long as pupils gain around half marks in the other two papers, which
assess reading and writing, they will reach the pass mark and be awarded
a level five, the standard expected of their age group.
A break down of statistics from last year's test, obtained by The Sunday
Telegraph, shows that teenagers scored an average of just six marks out
of 18 in the Shakespeare paper.
Despite this, 74 per cent reached level five or above. Dismal scores
were endemic even though pupils are told a year in advance exactly which
scene they will be questioned on...
The national curriculum stipulates that secondary school pupils must
study at least two Shakespeare plays, but the amount of time spent
teaching them is left to teachers' discretion.
In a review of English teaching last year, inspectors criticised staff
for using short extracts from key works of literature. Only four per
cent of secondary schools said they went through entire books in English
lessons, while more than half admitted to teaching bite-sized sections
rather than whole works.
David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, said: "The Government's
claim that Shakespeare is still at the heart of English teaching is much
ado about nothing. We need tougher measures to judge performance in
A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said that in
previous years, some of the 38 marks in the Shakespeare paper had been
awarded for writing skills, not knowledge of the play...
[The longer article is at
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