Friday, 20 May 2016

Why English SATs test Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar

What hours spent! Like dogs worrying bones, we have chewed over this question, why?

Why inflict made-up 18th century grammar on 11-year olds? It doesn't make sense! Who wants this? Employers? Is our local business saying, 'We'd employ you as admin staff ... but you can't locate the subjunctive, so we're sorry...'

The conclusion? It only makes sense if we follow the money. Money drives all. Money drives the schooling system. And maybe, if you're working for some super-large company selling educational materials, turning out exam scripts, providing online teaching programmes to take those exams, and offering the infrastructure to collect and collate test data - then maybe you also have the sales staff who whisper into the ears of national governments, 'We can handle the teaching, learning, and assessment for you! You have teaching shortages, school attendance problems, lack of standardised testing. We can solve it all, at a single stroke, just outsource the work you can't handle.'

Wouldn't the flow of money from a national education budget to corporate pockets be huge?

But this turn - from schooling as decisions based on educational issues into decisions based on economic principles - has been creeping over us for the last 20 years or so.

The Cox Report (1989) still allowed for creativity in English; but listen now. The rationale used by governments here and across the world to teach English or introduce English into primary education is not now about individual creativity or 'personal enrichment' - it's an economic argument: this country will succeed amongst the leaders of the world if we teach English.

But I've been troubled. Since Osborne announced all schools would become academies in the budget. Note that. No announcement from the Education Department, but from the Man with the Briefcase at Number 11. The decision about the UK educational future is based on economic principles. It's how English is taught in a global marketplace with standardised tests and packages.

Which is why the UK is turning to Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. It's an economic driver, unproven,  which tells your child's classroom teacher how English should be taught; how courses should be designed; and how classes should be run. Spelling delivered on Mondays, Punctuation on Wednesdays and Grammar on Fridays.

Now just look at the use of technology in education, for which I am humbly indebted to Dig, man with two brains and a world eye view.

He tells me how there are two main lines of talk about EdTech in English teaching right now.

One is how wonderful is technology! How teachers can use technology to improve the quality of what they do in all areas of their profession.

But the other line is how big tech companies are seizing the opportunity to create learning and teaching platforms, into which are built standardized curriculums and adaptive testing. These curriculums teach the test. So there is no difference between learning and testing: the child follows the online learning course then takes the online test which scores wrong or right and brings the child back to the same line of online learning, so each time they take the test, they answer more precisely. Teaching to the test becomes a perfect circle.

But worse. It's probably anathema to say it, but the words of Sugata Mitra are becoming taken up in a way that is downright dangerous. He has the language I recognise from home ed and he's wrapped it round a theory that we recognise. But it also fits in this new world. Actually, you don't need a teacher. You just need to buy the computers with their edu-learning software.

And this means that large educational businesses - pick one you know - can sell online packages to a country's education department saying: You know this problem with teachers? They are expensive and difficult to find. You don't really need English teachers in the classroom! Look at the research. You just need learning managers.

Now tell me this ain't happening. I hear that in universities the same is taking place - PhD students are employed as teaching assistants. The role of the teacher as a professional in this society is being steadily eroded. Soon, will any school need any subject specialist?

Which is why your child needs to learn Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. Computers can't mark poems. They can't give a grade to stories. They don't understand metaphor.


SPAG is the sort of global teaching and learning you can shift online. You can assess online. Indeed, you can bring together the worlds of teaching/learning/testing as if there is no divide. Your specialised English teacher can become a non-specialised Learning Assistant, guiding the child through the use of their SPAG computer program, giving what appears to be individual feedback but what is nothing more than a pre-set pattern your child learns to get right, if they're to move onto the next screen.

The school is forever grateful to the corporate who supplied the package and who takes away all the teaching and testing and feedback.

The corporate has gratefully received the public money your taxes gave to government for the education budget.

Is it only English? Not likely. A large company - insert the name of your nightmare edu-supplier - wants to sell curriculum across the board. They're not English specialists. English is one of many subjects they can offer, and they want to sell complete packages across the board to national governments.

Hey! Maybe they can even take control of Global Scores and Global League Tables!

Then you'll know that in SPAG, your child reached number 1,356,729 in the world. Won't that be comforting.


Place to stand... said...

Great if sad post - agreed in entirety. You got me through four years of home ed - bog boy got to 14 ...and I can't thank you enough.

Still plotting to start my own school ....

Grit said...

hi, place to stand! we all had a great time in that land of home ed, huh?! xx