Many teachers ‘ignorant of grammar and literature’, says GSA head

The Times is reporting that the president of a body that represents leading independent girls’ schools has said many teachers have no grounding in grammar or English language and are woefully ignorant of classic literature…

Alice Phillips, who is head of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), says that some enthusiastic teachers are “completely at sea” with many aspects of proper usage of language.

“Some of our brightest English literature teachers are, frankly, unversed in much pre-20th century literature,” Ms Phillips writes.

Of her school, St Catherine’s in Bramley, Surrey, she says: “Many of our brightest, most enthusiastic teachers have little or no grounding in English language or grammar, through no fault of their own, and are completely at sea with many aspects of proper usage.

In the Times Educational Supplement article Ms Phillips writes: “Wide reading and a familiarity with formal expression and grammar work to a certain extent, but won’t help you in front of a class of 14-year-olds when you are tasked with delving into the mysteries of subordinate clauses.

“We put in place an English grammar course for our Year 7 intake, after identifying a cross-curricular need for this in native, modern and classical languages. It has paid huge dividends.

“Some of our younger teachers have not been taught English grammar in the 1990s and 2000s, when they were at school themselves, and consequently they feel less confident as they teach as relatively new learners themselves.”

Ms Phillips says many younger teachers are unfamiliar with aspects of the new GCSE English curriculum, which requires a Shakespeare play, a 19th-century novel, poetry since 1789, and fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards.

“How are we to bridge the confidence gap?” she asks. “I hasten to add that I believe that they are more than equal to these challenges. They just haven’t been tasked with them before.”…

She adds: “Teachers all over the country are signing up for hastily arranged training courses in the new curricula and burning the midnight oil to prepare themselves. That they strive to be prepared is good — and so typical of so many of the teachers I work alongside — but it is not enough…”

More at: Teachers ‘ignorant of grammar and literature’ (subscription required)


Alice Phillips seems to be attacking the system rather than the teachers, but do you agree with her suggestion that many teachers lack understanding of the proper use of language and that this could be an issue with the new curriculum? Please give us your thoughts and feedback…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove She may well have a point (although seemingly little actual evidence) but I’ve never understood the fixation on “classics”

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove From a personal point of view I loathed Shakespeare, Dickens & other classics at school – put me off reading completely

  3. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove I would regard myself as moderately intelligent (at best) but could not (& still not) enthuse myself about any “classics”.

  4. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove At the same time I realise that some love “classics” but the wish to ram them down everyone’s throat seems mildly myopic

  5. PeterHutchinso5

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Perhaps you were force fed them at too early an age? A mistake we are about to make again.

  6. andylutwyche

    NuttySalt SchoolsImprove Quite – new curriculum fails to account for any form of individuality or notion that students may have an opinion

  7. andylutwyche

    PeterHutchinso5 SchoolsImprove Maybe or perhaps it was delivered in such a mundane way that it failed to enthuse me. Being read to is dull

  8. andylutwyche

    PeterHutchinso5 SchoolsImprove I agree that the same mistakes are about to be repeated & not just in English literature but many subjects

  9. NuttySalt

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove but it’s teacher individuality the students respond to. I’m happy to carry on encircling student opinion.

  10. PeterHutchinso5

    andylutwyche True. However I’ve seen at first hand attempts to make Shakespeare “accessible” to younger students – dumbing down.

  11. andylutwyche

    PeterHutchinso5 You can’t really win in that case. Either turn many students off “classics” or be accused of “dumbing down” #terrific

  12. PeterHutchinso5

    andylutwyche 2 Shakespeare plays in KS3 sounds impressive, but if you’re teaching a bottom set, you’ve got a challenging task! My opinion.

  13. andylutwyche

    NuttySalt SchoolsImprove Totally agree with that & making the subject matter accessible to the students. Tough ask with the new curriculum

  14. andylutwyche

    PeterHutchinso5 Totally agree – this is typical of ministers’ misjudged belief that making stuff more difficult will increase standards.

  15. PeterHutchinso5

    andylutwyche Show them the film, tell them the plot, take them to the theatre, but don’t expect them to fully understand the whole text.

  16. andylutwyche

    PeterHutchinso5 I would never claim to know the best way to teach the “classics” to be fair! I will bow to greater expertise!

  17. garrodt

    SchoolsImprove As were those unqualified ones who taught me immediately after WW2-still can’t spell but brilliant at Maths

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