Secret Teacher – Never Mind The SPaG Bollocks – The London Economic

Secret Teacher – Never Mind The SPaG Bollocks

Up and down the nation, parents of children aged around 7 and 11 will be doing battle with the horror that is SPaG tests – or, to the uninitiated, Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar.

Large numbers of children are arriving in school so much further back in their development than they were 20 years ago – many have speech problems, many aren’t toilet-trained, many have never held a pencil or pen or been read a story before they arrive in school.

Yet now these kids, along with all those who are “in line with age-related expectations” (lovely phrase) have SPaG to contend with. SPaG is a load of educational jargon which kids are forced to learn. Yet, because the powers that be have no gumption, these new terms have been thrown into the curriculum with no thought at all. Spelling is taught in a far from uniform way across the country, and this is a problem which needs addressing. Many teachers, unfortunately, are not great at spelling yet are responsible for teaching spelling patterns. Punctuation knowledge often comes of reading regularly, but, alas, many children are not read to and do not read for pleasure. They see it as a duty to be done for school, nothing more. Since many children do not speak in full sentences, they cannot write in full sentences – something the government has not yet picked up on.

Kids currently struggling heroically with the SPaG tests at Year 2 and Year 6 can rest easy – nobody uses these terms in real life in the known world, ever; terms like modal verb, fronted adverbials, antonyms and determiners. As the great Michael Rosen has proven many times recently, even the official guidance is contradictory and contains many grammatical errors. People with linguistics degrees that have learnt several languages have never needed these terms. Yet the government decree that 7- and 11-year-olds should know them.

This is all completely wrong-headed. Throwing in lots of totally unnecessary technical jargon that does NOTHING to benefit the children’s writing will simply turn children away from writing. Even much of the guidance for teachers to assess their writing is based not on how interesting, lively or enjoyable to read it may be (what used to be called “composition and effect”), but based on dry, pointless terms. So a child may write a thoroughly dull piece of writing, yet score highly because it is technically proficient. Such an approach stifles creativity, making writing dull for children to do and dull for teachers to read.

That the government have put a whole new curriculum in place, testing the current Year 6 children based on years of content they haven’t covered in previous years shows how laughable their thinking is. Whereas sensible thinking would have rolled it out from reception class upwards to see if it worked, or done some trialling across a few schools first, this of course would have led to feedback from everyone saying it’s insane.

Having suffocated the teaching profession with bureaucracy, unattainable targets and the lamentably inept, inconsistent and inhuman train wreck that is Ofsted, the government have succeeded in removing most of the joy from teaching.

Now, by putting in meaningless jargon with a soullessness the USSR would be proud of, an obsession with testing and preparing for testing rather than inspiring creativity and a love of language and learning, they have taken much of the joy out of education for the children – worse, often replacing it with a sense of failure at 7 and 11 years old.

The only people who have benefited from this affront to English are the ones paid to make up the tests and curriculum. If the voices of dissent don’t win and these ludicrous tests go ahead, in case you don’t do that great – it’s not you that’s failed, kids. It’s the grown-ups.

Sorry, parents. Sorry, kids.

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