Study shows improvements in writing in GCSE English since the 1990s

30 October 2005

A major new study published this week by researchers at Cambridge Assessment, Europe’s largest assessment agency, has shed light on the writing abilities of today’s teenagers.

The study 'Variation in Aspects of Writing in 16+ Examinations between 1980 and 2004' shows that standards of written English have improved since the same team published a similar study in 1996.

Alf Massey, Head of Evaluation and Validation at Cambridge Assessment, said: "Today's school leavers and their teachers and parents can be proud of the improvements in literacy over the last decade. The findings of this report should prove welcome to all involved in education.

"In 2004, vocabulary and sentence structures were more ambitious and spelling accuracy held up too. Candidates in 2004 were also more aware of the need for punctuation. Use of full stops, capital letters, commas, colons and semi colons all improved; whilst use of the apostrophe was better controlled."

The 1996 study looked at samples from the 1994 GCSE examinations and concluded that in many aspects of writing they fell below the quality seen in equivalent samples from a 1980 O Level English Language examination. There will be many reasons for the 'return to form' that the 2004 study shows - not least the change in emphasis and values prompted by the development of policies like the National Literacy Strategy.

As well as increased achievement by those awarded higher grades the researchers also detected a welcome improvement in the standards attained by less able candidates and the closing of the gender gap (boys catching up with girls) in some key areas.

The research also highlights a trend to use less formal, but still correct, language with the best candidates able to use different styles as appropriate.

Some controversy may surround the 2004 report but, as Massey states, "Could we not just be satisfied that improved performance means that the 'standards' implicit in 2004's grades represent a more appropriate level of quality and achievement, which should help to satisfy employers' and further educators' complaints that today's school leavers cannot do this, or that, as well their forbears?"

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