As soon as I started a tale with a subordinating conjunction The insubordinate ones ran off, all noise and wild rambunction The coordinating conjunctions were nowhere to be found They’d left in perfect synchronicity, for that’s how they get around Yet is it really necessary to have so many junctions in this life? To write should be a joy and yet the grammar police are rife With rules and regulations for what can and can’t transpire A manual of do’s and don’ts, inspiration turned to ire To write without mechanics gives more freedom on the page There’s always time to learn the rules but it’s hard to escape the cage
My daughter asked for my help with her English homework the other day because apparently I’m, ‘you know, good with words and stuff.’
I valiantly stepped up to the challenge, only to fall on my own sword. I was bamboozled by the plethora of grammatical terms which my eleven year old (and apparently my ten year old), are being asked to learn in school.
Subordinate clauses, fronted adverbials, relative clauses. These terms are a foreign language to me, but my kids have been learning them since they were seven or eight. My son’s struggles with literacy and my daughter’s growing dislike of English as a subject (despite her being an avid reader and a fantastic storyteller) are starting to make sense.
I was so chagrined I wrote a poem about it, then went online to find out who was responsible for my children’s escalating loathing of the English language.
I came across an interesting article in The Guardian from 2017 that raised concerns there was little evidence to support this technical approach to grammar in schools. It turns out even the academics responsible for advising the Government to bring in these changes back in 2014 have admitted this aspect of the curriculum is ‘not based on good research evidence.’
It turns out none of the academics advising the Government had much experience of Primary education when developing the requirements for the curriculum. Debra Myhill, one of those advisors, is now lobbing for the removal of this grammatical focus in Key Stage 2 SATS tests because,
‘There is no evidence that simply being able to name and identify linguistic terminology has any effect on your use of language.’
Actually, I’d say it does have an effect: it tends to make the person being asked to learn it fall asleep.
It’s easy to see how too much focus on the descriptors of the language itself, and not enough on the use of the language and the colour and joy found in words can suck the life out of learning.
Despite this article being written in 2017, the top down behemoth that is our education system continues to teach young children complex (and in my opinion, unnecessary) grammar, at a time in their lives when they should be having fun with words and exploring how to apply them creatively. Basic grammar should more than suffice at this stage.
As the poem says, there’s always time to learn the rules but it’s hard to escape the cage.