Bullock's notion gets a second chance

23rd November 1995 at 00:00
The revised national curriculum Orders are forcing most teachers to look at how they handle pupils' reading, writing, speaking and listening. Jonathan Croall reports.

The idea of language across the curriculum, promoted by the Bullock report 20 years ago before falling from favour, seems to be about to get a new lease of life.

The catalyst is the inclusion of a new use of language requirement in the revised national curriculum Orders which came into force this term.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) is now consulting subject associations and will be issuing advice to teachers some time next year.

Meanwhile, the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) is publishing booklets for primary and secondary teachers before the end of this term, offering detailed guidance on how to develop a whole-school language policy in the light of the revised Orders.

The new requirement, which applies to all subjects except modern languages, states: "Pupils should be taught to express themselves clearly in both speech and writing, and to develop their reading skills. They should be taught to use grammatically correct sentences and to spell and punctuate, in order to communicate effectively in written English."

Richard Bain, English adviser for Gateshead and author of the NATE booklet Use of Language in the National Curriculum, believes the requirement will force all subject teachers to look at how they handle pupils' reading, writing, speaking and listening.

"The development of really effective language policies is the most powerful way in which all-round standards of achievement can be raised," he says. "If teachers of all subjects encourage better skil1s in these areas, the effects will be seen right across the board."

Schools tried to introduce Bullock's recommended notion of language across the curriculum in 1975. But many were held back by a lack of resources for in-service education which led to it being seen as an idea that had failed.

There is some feeling that the new requirement has been included for political reasons.

"It's really there because of the usual panic over standards of English, in this case by John Patten," says Richard Bain.

"That's why it's so narrow and punitive in tone - it arose from the idea that it was every teacher's job to mark pupils' language work in their lessons. "

The statements omit any reference to ideas such as language diversity, or to matching forms of language to purpose or audience. "But you can steer teachers away from the actual words, and get them to concentrate on the importance of language for their subject," he suggests.

SCAA emphasises that the potential to use speaking, reading and writing to enhance teaching and learning is distinctive in each subject. It says language across the curriculum is likely to be less contentious in primary than in secondary schools, where subject teachers may be limited to marking occasional errors.

"But it's not just about marking, it's about effective communication," says Sue Horner, SCAA's professional officer for English.

"We want to draw on expertise in the field, look at the commonality between subject areas, but also at the differences. It's a complex area, and we're taking it gently.

"We're not intending to rush out any new instructions."

Already NATE has detected a growing interest in language across the curriculum, especially at secondary level. "With the power of the state behind it, there's a chance that the idea will work this time," Richard Bain says. "The language requirement forces teachers to face the issue."

Details of Use of Language in the National Curriculum from NATE, 50 Broadfield Road, Broadfield Business Centre, Sheffield S8 OXJ. Tel: 0114 255 5419.

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