Teachers face new grammar drive

In a bid to improve pupils' writing, school staff are to take a crash course in language skills By Mark Jackson and Sarah Cassidy.

A NATIONAL drive to teach grammar to teachers will be launched this autumn to help improve children's writing.

The country's 25,000 Year 5 teachers, and some other key stage 2 staff, will receive the first round of training. Meanwhile, a programme for secondary English specialists is being piloted in 150 schools in 17 authorities.

Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, said in his review of the National Literacy Strategy's first year that teachers' poor grasp of grammar was hindering children's progress towards national targets for writing.

Until the 1960s grammar was a key part of the curriculum and a mandatory element in examinations. But it did not survive the switch to comprehensive education nor the new teaching fashion which viewed formal language study as a brake on creativity.

Teachers educated in the Sixties and Seventies themselves missed out on the language lessons now demanded by ministers. The introduction of the national curriculum in 1989 explicitly set out what grammar should be taught at what age.

The Department for Education and Employment denies it is trying to turn the clock back to the days when pupils had to learn dreary rules and grapple with technical exercises such as parsing.

It says the new approach, developed by the National Centre for Literacy and Numeracy, is intended to make grammar enjoyable and fostr creativity.

Dr Laura Huxford, the centre's director of training, said: "Teachers will be using the methods that they are already familiar with from teaching reading, including games and practical activities as well as texts.

"The teachers' pack, which also includes a video, is called Grammar for Writing because the aim is to enable the children to learn how language works so as to increase their range of writing."

The teachers' courses will emphasise that there is no incompatibility between teaching grammar and fostering creativity.

"There's no point in asking them to be creative if you don't give them the tools," said Dr Huxford.

These tools will include learning how to analyse sentences to make them more accurate, or how to obtain various effects.

Nearly 400 local education authority literacy consultants are being briefed later this month and will then run courses. More than pound;4 million will be provided to enable schools to buy supply cover for staff on the one-day training.

Anne Barnes of the National Association of Teachers of English welcomed the focus on written work, as she believes the literacy strategy's concentration on reading has led to a noticeable decline in writing skills. But, she said, while teachers may benefit from learning "Latinate grammar terminology", it would be a turn-off for pupils.

An online glossary which defines and explains the meaning of grammatical terms is now available on the DFEE's website, www. standards.dfee.gov.uk

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