Merseyside through Mersey-eyes: schoolchildren’s memories of Liverpool (1979-1988)

Published on

Assessment of Performance Unit

May – July 2020, Liverpool Central Library (Picton Room)

The materials for this exhibition come from a large — and largely unknown — archive  of schoolchildren’s writing and speech, i.e. the APU Language Archive (1979-1988).

The APU Language Archive includes different types of writing and speech from UK schoolchildren in the 1980s. The samples in the current displays have been carefully selected to reflect “snippets of Liverpool life.” All scripts were written by schoolchildren living in the Merseyside area between 1980 and 1988 and have been arranged around three main thematic areas: children’s ‘leisure activities and memorable events’, ‘music’ and ‘vision of the future’.

Please take the time to look around, enjoy the inventiveness of the children’s mind and – why not? – allow yourself to savour the Liverpool of times past. 

A brief history of the APU Language Archive

APU stands for Assessment of Performance Unit, a division created within the Department of Education and Science (DES) in 1975 to monitor the achievement of schoolchildren in five curriculum areas: design & technology, foreign languages, science, mathematics and (English) language. The APU organised research teams tasked with creating methods of assessment and conducting surveys of performance. All surveys collected samples from two school years: Year 6 (11 year-olds) and Year 11 (15 year-olds).

The samples of this exhibition come from the APU Language Surveys. There were five nation-wide APU language surveys (1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and 1988) which, overall, collected a total of 12 million words of children’s spoken and written English.

The APU language surveys are currently owned and safeguarded as an archive (The APU Language Archive) by the English Department at the University of Liverpool. Since 2015, the archive is the baseline of a number of (a) language projects investigating variation and change in children’s writing across time (1980s-2020s) and (b) outreach initiatives and events that intend to make the collection known and used outside academia.

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