The national curriculum: Accent put on standard English

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: PROPOSALS to encourage children to speak 'standard' English are among the most contentious in the document to be considered by the National Curriculum Council in York tomorrow.

It defines standard English as 'grammatically correct English spoken in any accent'. The definition also points out that spoken English contains hesitations, false starts and incomplete utterances.

The document suggests that six and seven-year-olds should be 'sensitively' introduced to standard English, to use sentences in which the subject and verb agree, the syntax is logical and verb tenses are correctly used. Most nine-year-olds should say 'isn't' and 'haven't' rather than 'ain't' and most 11-year-olds should use negatives, comparatives and superlatives correctly: 'We haven't seen anybody' and 'The smaller of the two but the smallest of the three.'

Pupils of around 13 or 14 should use demonstrative and reflexive pronouns: 'Pass me those books please' and 'She's paying for herself.' Those at the top of secondary school should be taught that some colloquial forms have 'a degree of acceptance, for example, split infinitives, different from rather than different to'.

In spelling, seven-year-olds will have to spell words like cat, dog, leaf; nine-year-olds should be taught to distinguish between there, their and they're; 11-year-olds should spell business, procession and signature and 15 and 16- year-olds accommodate, acquaintance and conscience.

In grammar most 11-year-olds should use correctly nouns, pronouns, adjectives and adverbs and 15 and 16-year-olds should use constructions such as 'if . . . then' and 'in the light of . . .' and passive verbs such as 'is placed'.

Eleven-year-olds should be taught to use commas correctly in a list and to separate clauses from the rest of the sentence as in 'she played well, but didn't win'. Thirteen and 14-year-olds should learn to make correct use of apostrophes and speech marks.

Teachers will have to use a number of methods of teaching children to read, including phonics which is favoured by traditionalists.

Children will have to show they can use more than one strategy to work out an unfamiliar word. They will need to demonstrate that they have used phonics, defined as 'the relationships between print symbols and sound patterns', to decode a word and to judge whether their suggestion makes sense in the context of the story.

Research shows that the vast majority of English teachers already use phonics but the council complained when it began its curriculum review that the present English curriculum has only one reference to it. The new document contains at least eight.

Anne Barnes, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said the document had clarified some aspects of the English curriculum so that testing it would be easier. However, she predicted that English teachers would be deeply concerned about many of the proposals.

'Any definition of spoken standard English is slippery. It is impossible to say whether many things which we all say every day are standard English. Splitting an infinitive isn't necessarily ungrammatical though it is rather clumsy.'

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