Yet again Sats, the tests taken in primary schools by 10- and 11-year-olds, have been dogged by controversy. Papers have been marked down in some cases this year because the ratio of the dot to the comma in a semicolon has been judged to be not accurate enough (Straight commas lose Sats marks for primary children, 11 July). Many parents reading this will be firstly impressed that their 10- and 11-year-olds know where to place a semicolon and secondly shocked that at this age they should know the exact ratio required.
Yet here is the guidance on the marking of the Spag (spelling, punctuation and grammar) test: “The comma element of the semicolon inserted should be correct in relation to the point of origin, height, depth and orientation.”
This is a test designed and administered by private profiteers Pearson. We have been exposing the harm caused by Sats for years. Our children have had their education wrecked; their nerves have been frayed and their teachers’ love of teaching has been quashed by these damaging tests.
The headteacher who refused to do the tests this year, and made this decision, in conjunction with governors and parents, in September of last year, has shown there is a different way. Yes we can still assess and teach children. But without Sats this will be genuine, in-depth and focused on the development of the child. This is our vision for 2018. It is time for a change. It is time for us to say no.
Michael Rosen Author, Siobhan Collingwood Headteacher, Debra Kidd Parent, teacher and writer, Madeleine Holt Rescue our Schools, Alan Gibbons Author, story teller and teacher, Sara Tomlinson Teacher and NUT activist, Jess Edwards Teacher and NUT executive member
The Manchester Guardian in 1959 quoted Lord Hailsham: “The simplest [Tories] prefer fox-hunting; the wisest, religion.” The quotation omitted that final comma and so altered the meaning of the sentence. So I support the good teaching of punctuation; it adds more to the clarity of a text than spelling. But it is rare to find any writing by a non-professional writer that uses commas consistently, and few ever use semi-colons. Even Sebastian Barry, a great novelist, possibly the best writing in English, uses punctuation in a way that I sometimes find eccentric.
Those who set rules for marking punctuation need to keep in mind the difficulty that most educated adults have.