Letter: Students are not to blame for poor written English

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL DUMMETT rightly lays much of the blame for poor standards of written English on academics who sneer at notions of correct usage.

Their theories now influence teaching right down to primary level. Many training materials for infant teachers suggest that the teacher's role is not to teach but rather to create an environment in which children learn without systematic instruction. Because nothing is right or wrong, assessment then takes the form of lengthy descriptions of each child's development. This approach is hard work for teachers, and only exceptional children progress as far or as fast as they would with explicit teaching. Yet many teachers cling to this rather than teach reading, spelling and punctuation in a systematic way and then test objectively.

The London Association for the Teaching of English, which has led the opposition to testing, also opposes 'the use of spelling, punctuation and handwriting to create ceilings on pupils' achievements' (LATE bulletin, 30 March).

English teachers who sneer at Professor Dummett's views will, on the whole, be the teachers who oppose testing. Anyone who agrees that English standards have deteriorated should realise that proper testing is one way of reversing the decline.

Jennifer Chew

Egham, Surrey