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Leave grammar out of English lessons

Analysis shows traditional teaching of word order or syntax does not improve writing. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Children do not need to be taught the rules of English grammar despite concerns over school-leavers' poor writing, a government-funded study said this week.

An analysis of existing research from academics at York university found no evidence that teaching traditional grammar helped children learn to write.

It said ministers should review the national curriculum to take account of the findings.

Teachers should concentrate on helping children combine short sentences into longer ones and embedding elements into simple sentences to make them more complex, in order to improve pupils' writing.

The researchers carried out what they described as the largest systematic review of existing studies on the effects of teaching grammar.

They found no evidence that teaching the grammar of word order or syntax helped five to 16-year-olds write more fluently or accurately.

Professor Richard Andrews, who co-ordinated the research by the English review group, said his team's findings did not mean that teaching formal grammar was "not interesting or useful in its own right".

"However, in a pressured curriculum, where the development of literacy is a high priority, there will be better ways of teaching writing and our findings suggest that the teaching of sentence combining may be one of the more effective approaches."

The national literacy strategy requires five to seven-year-olds to learn about nouns, verbs and pronouns, while older children are expected to learn the names and functions of all the main parts of speech, as well as the grammar of complex sentences.

The Office for Standards in Education said it had found improvements in pupils' knowledge of sentence construction, punctuation and paragraphing, following the strategy's pilot year.

Tim Collins, shadow education secretary, said: "Dismal standards of literacy among some of our school-leavers have been highlighted by employers and admissions tutors on several occasions.

"It is therefore surprising that this report should come to such an indifferent conclusion to the tried-and-trusted methods of helping our children to improve their writing skills."

Trevor Millum, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "These same issues come up in debate every so often and have done for the past 50 years. If you are doing linguistics then grammar might be interesting and useful, but probably not for the majority of students."

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