English grammar in the media

This is a collection of comments, in the UK media or other sources, about the teaching of English grammar, and especially about the Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) tests.

  • 2021 (April) A sensible article in E-Magazine by Michelle Sheehan (a linguist) about why fronted adverbials are interesting and important.
  • 2021 (March) A sensible blog by Hayley Webster (ex-teacher and writer) about fronted adverbials.
  • 2021 (March) A rant by Sam Leith in the Spectator about fronted adverbials.
  • 2021 (February) A sensible piece by Debra Myhill in the Guardian about explicit grammar (and fronted adverbials)
  • 2021 (January) A rant by Michael Rosen in the Guardian about fronted adverbials
  • 2019 (April) A tweet from Michael Rosen.
    • Rosen: Please remember that the Grammar test at KS2 did not come in as a result of an interest in grammar or language. It was explicitly brought in to assess teachers’ ability to teach something which produced ‘right/wrong’ answers. This is laid out explicitly in the Bew Report.
    • Bew (p.60): We recognise that there are some elements of writing – spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary – where there are clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers, which lend themselves to externally-marked testing. A spelling test currently forms 14% of the writing test. Internationally a number of jurisdictions conduct externally-marked tests of spelling, punctuation and grammar (sometimes termed ‘English language arts’). These are essential skills and we recommend that externally-marked tests of spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary should be developed. We suggest it may be appropriate for handwriting to be assessed in this externally-marked test too. However, there is much more to ‘writing’ than spelling, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary and handwriting and we believe writing composition in a wide range of forms for different purposes and audiences should also be a core part of the statutory assessment of writing.  We believe that there is fundamental challenge with the marking of writing composition (extended writing of prose, verse, formal letters etc) because it requires a professional’s judgement rather than being empirically ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. [my highlighting]
  • 2018 (March) An article in the TES by Bas Aarts.
  • 2018 (Jan) An article in The Times by Oliver Kamm.
  • 2017 (Dec) A blog by Michael Rosen.
    • Rosen: As I’ve said before, the particular kind of  ‘grammar’ primary children do, was introduced because Michael Gove inserted it into the Bew Report, which we should remember was not a report on language in the curriculum, but a report on ‘Assessment and Accountability’. Grammar, it was stated, has right and wrong answers, and so would be suitable for use as a means to assess and evaluate teachers and teaching. It was not introduced because a combination of linguists, applied linguists, educationists and teachers thought it would be a good idea. It was introduced purely and only because Michael Gove thought that it would be a good way to assess teachers. However, the actual nature of the grammar involved was plucked from a repertoire of ‘grammars’ and linguistic knowledge that can be taught. It seems to have been based on Gove’s reading of Simon Heffer’s book(s) on the matter. Simon Heffer is not a linguist. He’s a journalist. I reviewed his first book on grammar for BBC Radio 3 and it included several mistakes.
    • Comment: The Bew report claims to be independent, so Rosen should provide evidence for his claim that Gove tampered with it. And the ‘actual nature of the grammar involved’ was not based on Gove’s reading Heffer: to his credit, Gove set up an independent working group chaired by Debra Myhill to define the grammatical content of the new curriculum’s appendix on grammar. He accepted her selected members (who included both grammarians and teachers) and the group’s suggestions, with the one exception of insisting that it should mention the subjunctive.
  • 2017 (Oct) An article in The Times by Oliver Kamm.
  • 2017 (May) A blog by Bas Aarts, responding to Mansell, Hinsliff and others.
  • 2017 (May) Another article in The Guardian, by Gaby Hinsliff.
  • 2017 (May) An article in The Guardian  by Warwick Mansell.
  • 2017 (April) A report in the TES of criticism by Michael Morpurgo of the SPaG tests.
  • 2017 (April) A report by the Commons Select Committee on Education criticising all the KS2 SATs tests and recommending that “the Government make [subjunctive!] spelling, punctuation and grammar tests non-statutory at Key Stage 2, but still available for schools for internal monitoring of pupil performance”.
  • 2016 (August) A TES article about criticism of the 2016 SPaG test by Tim Oates, with links to other articles criticising the KS3 SATs  as a whole.
  • 2016 (July) A blog by Alice Sullivan and Dominic Wyse
  • 2016 (June) A talk on BBC Radio 4 by A L Kennedy against primary grammar and the SPaG tests.
  • 2016 (May) A survey for the BBC of 750 Year 6 children  about the SPaG tests.
    • A data-set that was originally attached to this item, but later removed.
  • 2016 An open letter in the Guardian by Michael Rosen about SPaG to the Minister for Schools
  • 2016 Blog by Bas Aarts about Mary Bousted complaining in the Times Educational Supplement that the SPaG tests are too hard.
  • 2015 Blog by David Didau about Michael Rosen’s Guardian column.
  • 2015 Guardian column by Michael Rosen about the Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar tests.
  • 2015 Express: Teachers need to learn grammar
  • 2015 Mail on Sunday: Teachers need to learn grammar
  • 2013 David Crystal’s blog: A testing time – about the new SPaG tests
  • 2013 Daily Telegraph: Government adviser criticises ‘flawed’ primary school literacy test

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