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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Nuts and Bolts of the new English curriculum

Our staff meeting this week was about the new English curriculum. It was delivered by a Literacy specialist from the local authorityThe lady delivering the course was good, her delivery and content clear and the objectives met. However, that is were my positive comments end! 

As maths coordinator I am and have had to be familiar with the new maths curriculum. What has struck me the most about the new maths curriculum is the change in expectations for each year group for instance what was once a year 4 objective is now a year 3 objective and so on. Some examples are that pupils should know all of the times tables up to 12x, Roman numerals are to be taught in years 4 and 5 and year 2 are to be taught recognise, find, name and write fractions including thirds along with fractions of a length, shape, set of objects or quantity.  There are, I think, lots of 'Gove' elements to the maths curriculum. The addition of Roman Numerals, the language changes (Shape and Space is now called Geometry?), the emphasis on short methods of written calculation etc. 

Knowing all of these 'Gove' elements existed in the new Maths curriculum then perhaps I should have not been surprised by the overtly 'Gove' elements which exist in the new English curriculum. Sadly though I was caught off guard and was well and truly surprised, exacerbated by what I was listening too. 

There is now a huge emphasis on Standard English in both written and spoken form. The training was therefore predominantly geared towards this. One of the slides had the definition of Non Standard English as Vernacular!

The first slide with the title Traditional Standard English:
We're not coming - Standard English (mainstream)

We ain't comin - Vernacular/Non Standard English

Us byant-a-comin - traditional Dialect Centesl Western England

For slide 2 we were treated to a definition of the difference between speech and writing:

Speech                                    Writing
Usually vernacular/dialect          Likely to use standard English

Usually interactive                      Produced for unseen audience

It got worse, the title of the next slide Standard English?

Demonstrate an understanding of,  and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English. How will you address this as a staff? We were told this would need to be discussed in a staff meeting because 'Ofsted' will be judging all school staff on their use of as well as teaching of standard English! 

I have always had a love of the English language. I am an avid reader, I enjoy writing and was taught and use grammatically correct spoken and written language. I understand the importance of standard English but my problem is two fold. 

Firstly it is the cleverly hidden implication that we should all be speaking the Queens English if we are to succeed. We are so bad at it that we need to have 'Ofsted' inspectors to check that we are compliant. 

Secondly I, like millions of people am a huge fan of William Shakespeare. I love his plays and sonnets but it is the Elizabethan language that I love the most. However it is clearly the language of a world long since past. Language evolves, it changes constantly. I look back to my childhood in the late 60s and early 70s and know that language has evolved since then too. Our children live in a technological age. They communicate in so many different ways than we did as children. We need to embrace these changes in order to provide them with the tools to communicate effectively in the world they live in now and will live in in future. This includes standard English of course but not at the expense of all other forms of modern day communication. Our children use text speak, they tweet, use Facebook, emails etc yet what do we do? Do we embrace it? No we frown upon it and in fact want to take them back to the language of a time long past. 

If we accept that we are no longer using Elizabethan language then we must also accept that likewise our children are no longer using the Queens English. We must therefore help prepare them for the world in which they live in now, and will live in and compete in in their future. 

Check out the new English curriculum for yourself: 
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-curriculum