Guest post: Do DfE grammatical mistakes suggest we need more reforms after all?

Former teacher and university professor Colin Richards is concerned by what he sees as an excess of grammatical errors in recent correspondence from the DfE and wonders, tongue-in-cheek (?), if means further reforms might be a good idea…

Mary Meredith’s recent article reveals the DfE’s concerns to promote “proper” English usage. However, the Secretary of State’s recently published open letter to Tristram Hunt provides worrying evidence of a decline in English standards – not those of pupils but those of her DfE officials who drafted the letter.

Of course, published letters often contain the odd error; after all civil servants are fallible human beings like the rest of us.  However, this one offers many hostages to fortune.  Readers of this blog might like to access it now from the TES website as a kind of self-administered more sophisticated SPAG test and try to spot the errors, egregious and non-egregious, before reading further.

The letter  confuses “compliments” with “complements” – to mildly amusing effect.  A singular verb is used to accompany a plural subject (“The quality and prestige of our teaching profession is also better than ever”).  Capitalisation is used in non-standard ways – with the letter referring to “We trust the Profession”, and, self-importantly, to “the Government has also taken meaningful action to….” The use of the hyphen is also faulty; ”life changing educational reforms” instead of the accepted “life-changing” and “life-transforming“ instead of the accepted “education can be life transforming”. There may well be other errors.

Any one of these criticisms might be viewed as unnecessarily pedantic but six errors in a single letter do raise questions, two in particular.  What does the letter say about standards of English teaching in those schools (largely independent?) attended by the officials who drafted and approved the letter and who in other contexts make much of the need to improve standards of English teaching in schools?  And, more provocatively, doesn’t it suggest that  further “traditional” reforms al la Gove might need to be instituted?


You can follow Colin on Twitter @colinsparkbridg


Do you share Colin’s concerns or is he being an irascible pedant? Should we expect better from those in charge of education in this country? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove colinsparkbridg I put this down to austerity & the culling of civil servants whose job is was to be Grammar Police officers

  2. martynsteiner

    SchoolsImprove Does cheap sniping (both ways) between teachers and DfE improve outcomes for learners? I doubt it.

  3. diasporahighsch

    SchoolsImprove colinsparkbridg Try talking to them. Removes all doubt of idiocy! Other words such as clueless also spring to mind!

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