English Curriculum Rewritten: Traditionalists win return to emphasis on grammar, punctuation and spelling

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The Independent Online
The grammar targets that pupils will face

AGED 7: use capital letters and full stops

AGED 11: use commas correctly

AGED 13: use apostrophes and speech marks

AGED 16: know where to put colons and semi-colons

FUNDAMENTAL changes to English lessons prescribing in detail the grammar, punctuation and spelling that pupils must know by set ages are laid down in proposals prepared by government advisers on the national curriculum.

The plans, leaked to the Independent, show that teachers will have to correct six- and seven-year-olds who speak dialect and persuade them to speak 'standard' or grammatically correct English.

Critics say the proposals, which are expected to be approved by the National Curriculum Council tomorrow, are a triumph for traditionalists. They will anger English teachers, who are already threatening a boycott of national testing at 14.

Members of the Curriculum Council in Wales demanded changes last week. They argued there was too much emphasis on technical skills and not enough on how to communicate effectively, arguing that young children will be inhibited if they have to speak 'standard' English, and that the need for a literary canon of set authors is questionable.

The documents show that the English curriculum for all state school pupils aged five to 16 will be laid down in unprecedented detail and that the way teachers teach is to be prescribed in the national curriculum for the first time.

Eleven-year-olds should be taught to use commas. Seven-year-olds will have to use capital letters and full stops in most sentences and sound out letters in an unfamiliar word to show they have been taught to read partly by the phonics method favoured by traditionalists.

At about the age of 13 pupils will be taught to use apostrophes and speech marks accurately. Sixteen-year-olds will be required to learn how to use a semi-colon and a colon.

Teachers are told to wait until pupils are about 16 before explaining that the use of split infinitives in speech is sometimes socially acceptable.

The present curriculum, which became law three years ago, mentions only one author, Shakespeare. The new one says 14-year-olds must also have read works chosen from a list of authors, including two written before 1900. Sixteen- year-olds should choose from another list, including one book written before 1900. Some poetry written before 1900 will also be compulsory.

Ministers believe the original working party on national curriculum English, chaired by Brian Cox, professor of English at Manchester University, was hijacked by members of the education establishment and failed to address the need to improve pupils' basic skills.

In its advice last July to John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, the National Curriculum Council complained that the present curriculum gives no precise definition of the grammar that pupils need to know. It also attacked the view that spelling should be taught mainly through children's own writing and said that the skills needed in teaching children to learn to read should be more clearly laid down.

Professor Cox, who was shown the new proposals yesterday, said that English teachers would be furious to discover the curriculum had been completely rewritten against all the professional advice given to the council.

Independent schools were already preparing to reject this 'barren, narrow curriculum and go their own way'.

At present, children are not required to conform to the conventions of spoken standard English until between the ages of 11 and 13, he said. 'All the experts agree that six or seven is much too early and probably impossible. Many working class children will inevitably fail.'

Six-year-olds would be drilled in mechanical exercises. Not enough attention had been paid to reading for enjoyment, writing imaginatively and the need to communicate with an audience, he said.

Anne Barnes, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, which represents 6,000 teachers, said: 'Teachers will be extremely frustrated by being hemmed in to teaching small skills at certain stages. This ignores the way pupils learn to read and write.

'Children must be taught grammar, punctuation and spelling but they need to learn to express themselves first.

This is an assessment rather than a curriculum document. It is also very


The proposals are due to be sent to Mr Patten by the end of this month and could be implemented inside two years. Meanwhile, the Curriculum Council in Wales hopes to resolve differences with its English counterpart.

AGED 7: use capital letters and full stops

AGED 11: use commas correctly

AGED 13: use apostrophes and speech marks

AGED 16: know where to put colons and semi-colons