Guest blog from Rachel Williams, professional copywriter.
It would appear that improving the level of literacy amongst children is back on the Government’s agenda. A few weeks ago, my son, along with more than half a million 10- and 11-year-olds in England, sat the brand new spelling, punctuation and grammar test (or SPAG as it was dubbed at our school) as part of Key Stage 2 Sats, the national tests taken by children in their final year of primary school.
When I first heard about it, I was really pleased; I’ve banged on quite a lot about how poor use of our language can negatively impact businesses, so I welcome any initiative to raise literacy levels and ensure the basics are well and truly embedded in minds whilst they are still young. Change is also happening at GCSE level, with extra marks given for spelling and correct use of punctuation and grammar.
Like many parents, I spent weeks ahead of the tests working with my son on practice papers to help him prepare for the big week, and much of the time was focused on literacy. There are certain things I remember from my own schooling and I still think of nouns as ‘naming words’, verbs as ‘doing words’ and adjectives as ‘describing words’; beyond that I have no memory of learning about prepositions, articles, pronouns or the subtle art of writing complex and compound sentences – wow, it’s a lot for a child to get to grips with. And I found myself constantly reaching for the study book to make sure my son was answering questions correctly: he got to the stage where he could rattle of the definition of a subordinate clause in his sleep; for myself, I kept the book handy!
I still think that this new focus on SPAG is good – if it helps drive standards up and equips young people with better literacy skills that will last a lifetime, I certainly won’t be complaining. But I have come to realise that being able to spot a noun or adverb within a sentence during a test isn’t going to necessarily make children better writers or prove that they know how to enhance a piece of creative writing with adjectives.
I suspect that the SPAG test will quickly be seen as just another tick box to be filled; after all, Sats are primarily used to compile school league tables, but I am hopeful that learning the basic rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar will be understood, absorbed and, however subconsciously, utilised so that children today are totally literate and fully capable of entering the workforce in the future.
Fancy testing your own abilities? Prior to Sats week the DfE published a sample paper. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the answers!