GCSE students 'should be taught grammar'

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Pupils should be given more formal lessons in grammar as part of a revamp of the GCSE curriculum, the former head of the Government's exams watchdog has said.

Professor David Hargreaves, a former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said: "There should be more traditional grammar and spelling and we should penalise work when it is wrong.

"We have to accept that there is a major problem with students' writing."

His comments, made in today's Independent Education Supplement, will fuel the debate over whether GCSEs have become too easy.

That debate has been sparked off again by a Channel Four documentary, That'll Teach 'Em, in whichstudents studying for GCSEs were transported to a traditional 1950s-style classroom to be coached in O-levels.

Professor Hargreaves called for a national debate on the teaching of English in secondary schools and told The Independent that he had put forward a proposal that the current GCSE English exam should be renamed English language - and concentrate on grammar teaching.

It was vetoed by the Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, because it would have meant the compulsory Shakespeare test for GCSE students being transferred to the English literature paper - taken by fewer youngsters. Professor Hargreaves said of his suggestion: "Unfortunately, ministers didn't like it because it was portrayed as axeing Shakespeare."

His call for grammar teaching comes as the Government is reviewing the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds.