A baby boy, with blue eyes and perfect grammar

9th May 2008 at 01:00
Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, made a fairly ambitious statement on April 24 when she said she wished to create an education system which raised the bar for all
Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, made a fairly ambitious statement on April 24 when she said she wished to create an education system which raised the bar for all.

Part of her plan is to introduce new awards in literacy and numeracy. Traditionally, primary teachers and English and maths departments have been responsible for inculcating these skills in pupils. Now, with the advent of A Curriculum for Excellence, all teaching in all subjects will be expected to embed literacy and numeracy. In theory, a laudable aim.

A Curriculum for Excellence refers to competence in grammar, spelling, the written and the spoken word as essential for progress in all areas. This presents problems if pupils are to move from the present horizontal position. Take grammar. It seems sensible that a child should be able to write in sentences of varied construction, paragraph and punctuate. It's not much to ask when you compare it to the demands on previous generations in terms of analysis of sentences, awareness of the relative pronoun and such gems as the ablative case. The eyes glaze over at the thought.

The truth is that Ms Hyslop won't have to raise the bar far because, whether they have been taught grammar or not, the majority of pupils can't write a piece of continuous prose in their own hand, free from grammatical errors. Standard grade English is a testimony to the power of the computer to allow endless redrafts, with the finished product bearing little relation to the ability of the candidate.

If it were otherwise, we wouldn't have secondary-aged kids who can't read or write; nor would the universities be teaching basic grammar and essay-writing skills to new undergraduates. The whole thing has become so depressing that I'm wondering if grammar is something we inherit from our genes, like blue eyes or big feet.

The idea that literacy be taught across the curriculum is good. But I have concerns about who should teach it and how it should appear on timetables. Literacy, and probably numeracy, should be introduced as subjects in their own right. If we are responsible for dealing with these concepts, then all teachers should be trained to teach both. English and maths departments would be freed up to concentrate on other aspects of their subjects.

Suggesting we put literacy and numeracy as discrete subjects on the timetable and steal the time from English and maths might be viewed as cataclysmic. I'm ducking now as the missiles fly.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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