Teachers ‘lack skills to help primary school pupils prepare for new tests’

The Mail is reporting that teachers are having to go back to the classroom to learn basic English grammar because so many of them lack the skills to teach primary school pupils taking rigorous new tests next summer.

A special course has been developed by a leading university to bolster teachers’ grasp of the subject as so few were properly taught grammar when they themselves were at school.

Many are now having to prepare nearly 200,000 primary school leavers for English tests to be based on the demanding national curriculum introduced by former Education Secretary Michael Gove.

More than half of undergraduates, many of whom will train as teachers, have such a poor grasp of grammar that they cannot recognise that ‘and’ is a conjunction, identify ‘in’ as a preposition, or describe ‘technical’ as an adjective.

A grammar test conducted at a dozen universities, which was set at the level expected of 11-year-olds, found that some students taking challenging degree courses even struggled to distinguish between verbs and nouns.

Government adviser Richard Hudson, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at University College London, who carried out the research in 2009, said: ‘A typical primary school teacher hasn’t done any grammar. Most schools abandoned teaching it completely in the 1960s.’

…But the Government’s new tests have come under fire from children’s author Philip Pullman, a former teacher.

He said: ‘I think this is a brutal piece of stupidity, that you can make people good at language by telling them the names of things.’

More at: Teachers go back to the classroom for grammar lessons because so many of them lack skills to help primary school pupils prepare for new tests


Is the Mail right about teachers needing coaching to be able to prepare their students for the new tests?

If so I’m not surprised as I was never taught the various names for different aspects of grammar at school (and have never really learnt them since either).

Ultimately, however, does that matter, or does Philip Pullman get it right in suggesting that learning the names of things doesn’t make you any better at language?


Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin every morning (around 7 am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link

Academy chain’s fees for ‘consultants’ put schools programme under scrutiny
Food banks braced for surging demand as children miss free school meals at half term
Categories: Policy, Primary and Teaching.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Typical Mail stuff: with “squiggly red lines” on computers the need to know grammar by heart lessens; basics required though

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Surely this kind of thing highlights the inadequacies of the new testing system, and how backward thinking it is

  3. MalcolmWilson01

    SchoolsImprove Names have power. They give an identity to the tools of language. Alone, they’re nothing; without them, we may flounder.

  4. Nairb1

    How is anyone’s capacity for effective language enhanced by knowing that ‘in’ is a preposition? I’ve got to a ripe old age without needing to know that ‘Later that day, I heard the bad news’ contains a fronted adverbial, now terminology essential for Y4 pupils. Gove’s view of grammar is based on a Victorian desire to squeeze English into Latin forms, even though it’s not a Latin based language. Very quickly use of ‘correct’ grammar, ‘correct’ being purely arbitrary, became linguistic snobbery. It still is.

  5. Nairb1

    Nevertheless they give a good indication of Pullman’s view of the government’s ‘reforms’. Labelling them as inadequate because they are undefined and emotive just serves to prove the point.

  6. One of the sample questions ask pupils to use the subjunctive.   Fowler’s Modern English Usage (second edition 1983) devotes 4 pages to the subjective.  His conclusion includes:
    1  Subjunctive use is declining. 
    2  Contemporary use of the subjunctive can be, among other things: an archaic form used for effect; and, an obsolete survival used pretentiously.
    And this is what our poor 11 year-olds are supposed to learn. The ‘grammar’ test will encourage teaching that will kill stone dead any interest in the beauty of the English language.

  7. jo_pipsqueak


  8. niffersmum

    SchoolsImprove New KS2 SPaG expectation is very high. I’m all for grammar teaching but it’s ridiculously complex. Most adults would fail.

Let us know what you think...