Since the instalment of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar tests (otherwise known as SPaG tests) in the UK in 2013, there have been varying opinions on whether or not Key Stage 2 (age 7-11) pupils need to be assessed formally when it comes to this particular set of skills. Do children of this age need to have a full understanding of Standard English when they leave primary school? Will it be problematic or beneficial when it comes to their literacy skills in the future?
Professor Debra Myhill (2011) states that “[m]any English teachers and educationalists advocate a pluralist approach to teaching, one which values dialectal diversity but also acknowledges that giving learners access to Standard English may help them in gaining access to powerful discourses and powerful positions”. Myhill takes into account that dialectal diversity is important and that some pupils may find certain elements of Standard English to be unnatural to them, due to the regional dialect they were bought up with, therefore giving them a disadvantage when it comes to the SPaG tests. However, she also states that if pupils acquire knowledge of Standard English, it could help them in accessing a wider spectrum of opportunities and more powerful positions. So how can a primary school pupil’s knowledge of Standard English help them obtain a powerful, influential reputation?
In an online article discussing why grammar is important, written for the English Speaking online website, it claims that “[u]sing the correct grammar (when you write or speak) is important to avoid misunderstandings”. It goes on to say that “[i]f your English is too full of mistakes, you will slow down communication and conversations, and find it harder to express your ideas and thoughts clearly and concisely”. This is spreading the belief therefore that the better your grammar, the wider an audience your voice can reach. If you use Standard English when speaking and writing, more people will be able to communicate with you/relate to what you are saying. Having said this, I previously mentioned that this puts certain pupils with distinctive regional dialects – those that do not tend to use Standard English outside of the formal school environment – at a disadvantage, not only when it comes to SPaG testing but also their future communication skills. Would it therefore be problematic and unfair not to give pupils the education they may need for literacy and communication in the future, when it comes to Standard English?
Brady (2015), states that “whether intentional or not, the pedagogical practices of teachers and the curriculum may serve not only to perpetuate the power of those who guard, sanction and thus legitimise language but also to disempower those who have reduced access to the language”. Brady believes that the national curriculum and the way it is taught in general, serves the pupils who have been bought up speaking Standard English and disempowers those who have been bought up with dialects that do not naturally use Standard English. Surely this gives further reason to teach grammar as a subject in primary schools so that all children have the same opportunites in time to come? However, does this give reason for SPaG testing?
Pells (2016) in The Independent, states that primary school testing has been “widely criticised by parents, teachers, school leaders and government ministers as overly complex and the source of “unnecessary” pressure on children at too young an age”. Although as discussed, grammar may be an important subject for pupils to be educated in, testing them on it at such a young age is said to be unnecessary and far too pressurising considering their age. Pells also states that “[c]ampaign organisers Let Kids Be Kids argued that children as young as six were becoming increasingly stressed over unfair testing methods which also account for reduced creative learning and activities in schools”. It is believed that creative learning is also important in primary education and that these tests and exams are generating needless anxiety and worry in primary school pupils.
So what are your thoughts? Is grammar testing a necessity at such a young age? Is it of any importance at all? My personal beliefs lie with children’s happiness and enjoyment with schooling. Education is very important so for a child to start out feeling stressed and uneasy, it would be awful for them to carry that feeling all the way through their schooling and therefore feel discouraged and disheartened about testing and literacy in the future.
HOLLY WILLIAMS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK