Letter: Testing English at seven is too early

YOUR correspondents last week who wrote about spoken Standard English fail to address the problem that faces teachers. The present 1989 English curriculum, for which my Working Group was responsible, states clearly that 'all pupils should learn, and if necessary be explicitly taught, Standard English'.

The problem is when and how. In a letter to the Independent (20 April) Professor Gillian Brown, an international authority, says that age five is much too early: 'Only after a child can read and write confidently, at least at reading age eight, is it reasonable to begin working from the relatively stable forms of the written language to point out grammatical differences between the standard language and the dialect.' The new 1993 National Curriculum proposals for English insist that pupils should be tested as early as seven. This is sensibly rejected by the Welsh Curriculum Council. Testing of children for whom English is a second language or who speak dialect at home will label little children as failures.

Testing will be very time-

consuming. It's not too difficult to test effective communication, but assessment of grammatical accuracy must involve taping and transcription. I strongly support Sir Randolph Quirk when he argues that spoken Standard English is a road to freedom. The problem is how to teach it successfully.

Professor Brian Cox

University of Manchester