KS2 English GPS Navigates Nonsense

One could construe that I am being mischievous – well, I am, but also 100% accurate [about the only certain ‘accuracy’ in these nonsensical tests] – but the following question and answer demonstrates how this idea of finite ‘correctness’ [excuse paradox, but the DfE clearly don’t understand this concept, apart from as a construct] is untenable as a means of measuring language and writing learning in students:


Here’s my answer: You may bring sandwiches or juice and water for the trip, but glass bottles are not allowed.

In a mark scheme that comically – though appalling – gives copious guidance on what to do if students write answers outside of provided spaces or similar ‘errors’, it is completely unable/unwilling to address how to respond to answers that are – wait for it – ‘outside the box’ [couldn’t resist] but in language terms still ‘correct’, and therefore illustrates the fundamental problem. And what I mean, of course, is that this one question/answer does not exist on its own: it is the model for most of the test. Here is the ‘correct’ response to earn 1 mark:


Because I am stupid and useless, my answer could not gain 1 mark, though it makes absolute sense, both linguistically and as communication, even if the instruction in my version to bring food or drink is a tad draconian – like the tests.

I could, and might [but I start GCSE examining imminently….], unravel a few more, but this is probably enough to make the point for anyone prepared to see it immediately.

Michael Rosen continues his stellar analysis of these tests themselves on his blog and elesewhere, and one seemingly simple and yet colossal example of further bad practice he exposed was the question that asks students to provide the antonym for the word ‘fierce’.



As Rosen points out, no single word out of context has an antonym [words rarely, if ever, possess this neatness, though paired examples like black/white occur], and the idea of there being a ‘correct’ or ‘accurate’ or ‘true’ antonym to reward as an answer in a necessarily narrowed mark scheme is more craziness.

I picked this analysis up on Facebook and was intrigued to see teachers offering ‘answers’ – many in jest, obviously, but a surprising number engaging in the process earnestly, though one can understand why if they have had to teach this crap and are affected by it.

That said, one of the more interesting proofs of how stupid this question is would be in considering the possible ‘answers’ of calm and timid. Here’s the rub: can you imagine two words that as potential antonyms to the word fierce are therefore necessarily also synonyms which could be more different to one another in what they actually imply/mean! Obviously, this is what makes language so exciting, and as I have argued elsewhere, if you really felt the need for such tests [but let’s actually just imagine it as teacher set/teacher assessed], what could be more illuminating that allowing students to write sentences using the words timid and calm to reflect their alternative meanings…or acting them out…..or talking about them…..

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