Schools 'are wasting their time teaching grammar'

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The Independent Online

Schools are wasting their time teaching children the rules of English grammar because there is no evidence that it has any impact on pupils' writing skills, a government-funded study has concluded.

Schools are wasting their time teaching children the rules of English grammar because there is no evidence that it has any impact on pupils' writing skills, a government-funded study has concluded.

Ministers should cut back the teaching of formal grammar and let children "learn to write by writing", academics from the University of York said.

They called for a review of the national curriculum, arguing that there was little evidence that grammar teaching was "worth the time" spent on it.

The findings were dismissed by traditionalists as "absolute nonsense" and an attempt by academics to reintroduce the "trendy" teaching methods of the 1960s.

The study, which researchers claim is the largest review of existing research on grammar teaching, is likely to embarrass ministers who have put formal grammar teaching at the heart of their drive to raise literacy standards. It recommended that teachers should concentrate on teaching children to combine short sentences into longer ones to improve their writing skills. They found no evidence that teaching the grammar of word order or syntax helped pupils aged from five to 16 to write more fluently or accurately.

Professor Richard Andrews, who co-ordinated the research, said his team's findings did not mean that teaching formal grammar was "not interesting or useful in its own right" but he continued: "In a pressured curriculum, where the development of literacy is a high priority, there will be better ways of teaching writing.

"If there is little evidence that formal grammar teaching of syntax works, then practices based on theories such as 'you learn to write by writing' need to be given more credence. Whether there is space in the curriculum to teach syntax for its own sake, or for other purposes, remains to be seen."

Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, a group which champions a return to traditional education methods, dismissed the findings as "absolute nonsense".

"Children have to learn the basics of grammar and syntax before they can really develop their writing," he said. "A knowledge of grammar and English language always must come before creativity. I sense that this might be a fight back against a return to traditional methods. It is worrying if academics are suggesting that we should go back to the laissez-faire attitudes of the 1960s. It could be very damaging."

Formal grammar teaching forms part of the national literacy strategy introduced in 1998. Teachers are required to teach children aged from five to seven about nouns, verbs and pronouns. Older primary school pupils are expected to learn the names and functions of all the main parts of speech as well as the grammar of complex sentences. However, an evaluation of the pilot year of the strategy by the schools watchdog Ofsted concluded that while there had been some improvements they "were least in sentence construction, punctuation and paragraphing".

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "We don't expect teachers will use any single teaching method in isolation. The national strategies give teachers the tools to personalise the teaching according to the purpose of the writing pupils are engaged in."

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