Nobody can fail to notice that (new tougher) SATs start today. An article from the Telegraph on 6th May, by Javier Espinoza, that I saw as a tweeted link, suggested that the current (tougher) testing regime was an essential part of raising standards. What surprised me was Nick Gibb’s statement that tougher test somehow ensure a rise in quality.
Nick Gibb said: "Our argument is that if you don't come from a home where your parents speak in a grammatically correct form day in day out, if you don't have a home surrounded by books, where reading isn't a daily occurrence, [children] need that kind of structural instruction and teaching about how sentences should be constructed.”
When I was a headteacher, our intake included children from households such as those described. This was identified as an issue to be tackled, so we ensured that there was a rich language environment; talking learning, regularity of reading, personal and shared, across a wide range of genres, children working in pairs or threes to discuss preparatory activities or to solve problems, creating stories, pieces of collaborative art work and much home activity was developed to support dialogue and discussion.
Children need to become confident communicators.
The deficit model implied by Nick Gibb may be a feature of a number of areas; it was identified in the late 1960/70s in a number of studies, including Wilkinson, Plowden and Bullock, but the prescription being suggested now will not necessarily improve the confidence of the children as communicators. In fact, I’d argue that some may become more reticent as their awareness of their deficit becomes clearer, largely as a result of the necessary repetition to become “correct”, with the implication that they are always getting it wrong. Is unconfident but correct significantly better than confident with a few errors? I’d rather children developed confident articulacy applied across all the subjects of the Primary curriculum, instead of spending, in some cases, a disproportionate time on grammatical constructions that many adults, including Nick Gibb, find challenging.
Meanwhile (using a time connective) the broader curriculum, which embeds the wider, world-describing vocabulary of culture and science, is, with anecdotal reports, sacrificed. Inevitably (oh look, a fronted adverbial), in my opinion, over the next few years, children in Primary schools will experience a shallower diet across subjects, if teachers continue to focus on the narrowness of SPaG. English may be based on SPaG, which gives it an importance, but confidence in use, across all areas of learning, is equally important.
We need to teach children to communicate, to speak, read and write, with confidence. Different subjects offer variety of vocabulary and communication needs, so a broad balanced curriculum is an essential component to good communication, including SPaG, but I’d argue for SPaG in use and application, rather than a dry focus on teaching it.
It is possible to have both as quality aspects of teaching and learning.
If that makes some elements of testing more difficult, we should be able to cater for that.
Inevitably, however many times I proof read my blog, readers are likely to find something that they see as a grammatical error. To err is human...