Friday 18 March 2016

DfE letter gets their own version of 'grammar' WRONG. DfE FAILS.

The Department for Education has replied to the Petition against SATs. It includes the sentence:

"As this is the first cohort to have reached the end of the key stage it would not be fair or accurate to set the new scale using data from pupils that had studied the old national curriculum."

To be quite clear, I'm relaxed about how this sentence is written. A change is taking place in British English: more and more people are using 'that' where it used to be that we would only hear 'who'. However, the Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar tests that children have to sit at the end of Year 2 and Year 6 demand that this should only and always be 'who' when it applies to people - like 'pupils'.

What conclusion should we draw from this?

1. This letter from the DfE reflects how language changes.

2. The people at the DfE find it difficult to follow the instructions about language that they pass down from on high to schools, teachers, parents and children.

3. If they find it difficult, we can assume that teachers, parents and children will find it difficult.

4. It is not only difficult, it's as pointless as trying to nail down the wind.

5. Making this kind of hyper-correctness so important results in teachers, parents and children feeling inadequate and humiliated.

6. The real purpose of making it compulsory that it should be 'who' not 'that' is that examiners - who may themselves only know the 'right' answer because they have the mark book at hand - can mark children right or wrong.

7. Having done the right/wrong mark, the teachers and schools can be judged, teachers can be put under pressure, league tables can be constructed and the whole grisly business of harassment and punishment of teachers and schools goes on and on and on.

8. Nicky Morgan can appear on BBC 'Question Time' and pretend that the reason for the teacher shortage has nothing to do with this punitive environment.

9. Clarification - 'that' to refer to people is OK in 'informal' circumstances according to the Cambridge Grammar - reference point for the UCL linguists who back up the SPaG test. The DfE letter is of course 'formal' and SPaG is entirely about 'correct' English for 'formal' circumstances. That's what underpins the whole malarkey. That's why 'that' in their letter is - according to their rules about 'formal' and 'informal' English is 'wrong'. I repeat, not in my book - in theirs!