A group of children’s authors have expressed concern that the English curriculum and its implementation in the classroom is more damaging to children’s learning than useful.

So much so that they have clubbed together to write to the education secretary of their worry, with particular regard to the way in which children are taught to write and use language. (See article here)

The assessment criteria used to measure children’s skill in writing, and indirectly the teachers who teach it, has become so narrow yet still so incredibly demanding and target focussed, that teachers feel pressured to encourage a style of writing and language use that is so unnatural it becomes almost bizarre, as the article illustrates. But more worryingly it is in danger of putting children off writing for ever.

When measurable targets are involved as part of the curriculum, with points for targets reached, the learning of language and the child’s educational development becomes more about point winning than it does about a rounded education and intelligence.

I was talking to a former primary head recently; one who finally gave up teaching because of the pressure to reach these ridiculous and unrealistic targets and the stress it put children under, who has been involved in literacy in schools for many years both in and out of the classroom. And she feels that the literacy objectives teachers have to teach are as far away from the real use of language as we are from mars. And it is soul destroying, she said, to see young teachers struggling to instil grammar and vocabulary that most adults wouldn’t use or even be familiar with, let alone a child.

Interestingly, many home educating families educate their children very successfully without using a curriculum at all. And it is just this kind of prescriptive and objective led approach to using language in the classroom that drives them to do so.

Unrealistic targets can drive both teachers and parents to have unrealistic expectations which do more damage to a child’s education than enhance it.

The curriculum is after all just a tool to use in the development of a child’s education. It should not be used as a means to score points, which is the way it’s used in the system. Children can develop the use of language, spoken and written, in natural organic ways through normal every day interaction and home educating families can use, or lose, any kind of curriculum to achieve it.

We use language every day of our lives. Whether spoken, text, written or read. If language is developed through realistic use and in meaningful ways – meaningful to the child, and the child is encouraged to extend his literary material, then we hardly need a curriculum at all until we want to formalise it in academic ways. Yet even then, according to the article, primary teaching of language use has to be reversed and simplified in order to do an MA in writing!

As the authors in the article say: “We risk producing a generation of children who believe that a sentence such as ‘I bounded excitedly from my cramped wooden seat and flung my arm gracefully up like a bird soaring into the sky’ is always better than ‘I stood and put my hand up’.”




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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.