Hard questions to answer

26th April 2013 at 01:00

Your article "Ministers ignore expert warnings over 'flawed' primary grammar tests" (5 April) is interesting. But it is not just that the tests are flawed. Questions asking for the correction of mistakes have been around for centuries (see Ian Michael's The Teaching of English: From the sixteenth century to 1870) and have always been useless and misconceived; also, some questions make false linguistic assumptions.

Nor is it just that some of the linguistic notions behind them are flawed (which they are - for example, their definition of standard English contains errors). The more basic problem is the absence of evidence that learning to do these mindless tests will improve children's command of English. Until recently, the only grammatical technique that had ever been shown to improve students' writing was sentence combining, although the work by Debra Myhill and colleagues at the University of Exeter has shown that teaching grammatical analysis in the context of writing for specific purposes does have benefits.

Also, I suspect that those who can do the spelling and grammar tests are those who already know how to write well and therefore do not need this supposed learning, while those who do need to learn how to write better will not have a clue how to do the tests and are incapable of benefiting from them.

Greg Brooks, Professor emeritus of education, University of Sheffield.

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