Grammar class for teachers

17th December 1999 at 00:00
Inspectors blame poor teaching for the lack of improvement in primary writing skills reports Sarah Cassidy.

TEACHERS' lack of knowledge of grammar and punctuation has contributed to the poor standard of writing in primary schools, according to an evaluation of the first year of the national literacy strategy.

The strategy has transformed the way children are taught to read but has yet to have the same effect on their writing and spelling, according to the analysis by the Office for Standards in Education.

Although overall standards in primary English are rising, the figures conceal worrying weaknesses in writing, particularly among boys, said chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead.

In response, the Government announced new training for all teachers of 10 and 11-year-olds to boost their own grammar and punctuation skills and to show them how to teach pupils to structure their writing.

It has also issued new guidance on how to teach spelling to juniors - including lists of words which each age group might be expected to know. Words for 11-year-olds include claustrophobia and archaeology while 10-year-olds will tackle circumnavigate and antennae.

Seventy per cent of 11-year-olds reached the required standard in this summer's English national test. However, only 46 per cent of boys and 61 per cent of girls did so on the writing papers.

Mr Woodhead praised the literacy strategy as arguably the "most significant" initiative in state education in 30 years but said the gender gap was a cause for concern.

"I see no reason at all why boys should fail to make comparable progress to girls in literacy.

"This must have something to do with the quality of teaching, teachers' expectations of what boys can do and the teaching methods that are being used. At the moment, the gap is unacceptable," he said.

Virtually all local education authorities showed a gender gap of at least 8 percentage points - rising to more than 15 in some instances, the report said.

Keith Lloyd, head of OFSTED's primary division, said teachers' poor knowledge of grammar and punctuation had contributed to the problems of teaching writing.

However, schools were commended for improving the quality of phonics teaching, which had been criticised in OFSTED's interim report on the literacy strategy published earlier this year.

But the report added: "The teaching of phonics is now receiving a much greater priority. It has improved in quality but there are still too many lessons, particularly in Years 3 and 4, where phonics is not taught well; it remains weak in almost a quarter of lessons in the weakest category of schools."

In response to the report, schools minister Estelle Morris announced that every teacher of pupils aged 10 and 11 will receive a day's training in teaching writing this term, with Year 6 teachers getting a further day next term.

Year 6 booster classe will also focus on writing and a national writing competition for primary schools will be launched in the new year to encourage all children to develop their skills.

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