Saturday 16 June 2012

Letter to me from Pie Corbett re Draft Primary English Curriculum


Dear Michael -

I believe that the new draft English curriculum has more holes in it than a colander.

Much of it was obviously drafted by civil servants and the grammar strand has to have been written without sight of the main document.

As Andrew Pollard says, in terms of transparency, we should know who was involved. I suspect that Primary Schools would be very angry if they knew. The way in which the grammar is presented leads me to believe that this has to have been drafted by university lecturers and secondary teachers. The idea of teaching subordinate clauses to year 3s is a daft suggestion, adverbs are taught separately from verbs, fronted adverbials will just cause confusion, active and passive was tried in the national strategy and was found to be unhelpful, apostrophes for possession in year 4 when children are just NOT ready for the CONCEPT will not work, modal verbs and cohesion in year 5  will leave little for PHd students to be tackling.... and I think we should be told why the subjunctive is mentioned and who insisted on it being included. There is NO research evidence that teaching the subjunctive has ever helped anybody become a better reader, writer, speaker, listener or learner. I recall over half a century ago being made miserable by Hannibaltrying to cross the alps with elephants and the subjunctive being of major importance - since then I have never needed that knowledge at all.

It makes me wonder what year 7 children will be taught. ..... and yet just as you think that
this is not going to work and there will be tears before bedtime - you notice that speech marks
do not appear till year 3 when many teachers start on speech in year 1 and build on it into year 2.
In year 1, they are only expected to write 'short narratives' using the word 'and' - which is weird
because I meet lots of 6 year olds who can write pages..... using far more than 'and' - hardly
the ambitious move forwards we were promised. Of course, if you do not involve primary
experts then these sorts of imbalances are bound to appear.

There are so many inconsistencies, instances where progression is not built in and omissions.
At key stage 2, it talks about using models for writing - but not at key stage 1. The programme
does not link sufficiently from the foundation stage (early years) into year1 to ensure that children
make progress. Where is drama? Where is speaking and listening? Non-fiction is very poorly served.
Is there any underlying belief or theory of language development that underpins the programme?

The detail of the spelling set against everything else is ridiculous. Most of us learn to spell by reading and endless teaching of spelling will turn children off writing and it is quite possible that trying to remember so many rules will actually make spelling worse. The spelling lists look bizarre - it reminds me of the days when I struggled to learn mississippi - a word that at the time haunted the weekly spelling test but I have never needed since. Why should a year 4 child learn the word 'conscience'? Surely, it would have been more sensible to focus on the most common words needed when writing?
As a teacher, I am actually not too concerned if Jamil cannot spell 'conscience' at the age of 8 - that
is the least of my concerns.

Whilst I believe that children should be involved in performing poetry, it is disappointing to find that
storytelling is missing. There has been so much exciting work done across the country on developing
storytelling. It leads me to believe that whoever wrote this is not in touch with the developments
that teachers are creating - that have been shown to work in terms of raising standards, as well as
spreading a little joy.

Those responsible for considering reading seem to believe that decoding happens in isolation of meaning. So you blend a word and then understand what it means. It is crazy because the various cues help the child read the word and it all happens at once for a confident reader. Reading is about meaning. As long as children can hear, you can teach anyone to decode. It is comprehension and composition that are the issue.

Has anyone sat down and thought about whether or not it is actually possible to teach all of this? We have maths, science and english so far - is it humanly possible to sensibly help children learn all of this without adding any more to it? I doubt whether anyone has such an overview.

Does the maths, science and english relate? Is there a cross-over in terms of writing/speaking opportunities for instance.....

Where are the references to the use of technology? How can we havea modern curriculum that does not mention in the English section the use of technology?

It seems to me that its biggest failing is that it is not a national curriculum. It is a rather strange annual framework for teaching.

If the government believe that they have been presented with a fine national curriculum then they have been poorly served. However, if you do not involve primary school 'experts' then this is bound to happen. It happened in the beginning with the very original national curriculum, expert groups were asked to work on different subjects and then it was left to schools to put it all together.  Not only does no one appear to be thinking about how all of this might actually be taught in a sensible programme but it seems that different parts of the subjects are being developed by different people - so the spelling is very detailed, the grammar is rigorous and the rest is rather innocuous.

To be fair, there are bits that are more than reasonable - though there is a long way to go.

It is only a draft and everyone should make their thoughts known. It makes me remember the original rather fondly.

all the best with your communications - Pie.