I had a bit of a shock this week. Trying to help my son prepare for his KS2 SAT Level 6 Maths test, I realised that as a parent, I was functionally innumerate and not fit for purpose. My son was as unimpressed as I was embarrassed. How could this be? After all I have O level Maths from 1979 when exams were ‘proper’, I passed my QTS Maths test first time, I can work out the area of tiles needed to redo my bathroom; how can I not do a test designed for a 10-11 year old?
Participation in a cross-school literacy project also led me last week to look at the new glossary of KS2 grammar terms, available at http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/g/2013%20ks2_egps_glossaryofterms.pdf, with which our new pupils will soon be armed. Glancing down the contents list, I stopped dead at ‘Fronted Adverbial’ – what is that?* Now, I know I get confused between average, mean, median and mode but I’m a language teacher and really, they are all the kind of same aren’t they? Anyway if I need to know the difference I can ask a colleague as they don’t pop up when I’m teaching Latin so no pupil ever corrects me or challenges me on my lack of knowledge. I don’t need numeracy to teach Latin.
But language and literacy is needed to teach every subject within the curriculum. Indeed Point 6.3 of The National Curriculum Framework Document https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210969/NC_framework_document_-_FINAL.pdf states that pupils ‘should be taught the correct use of grammar’ by every subject teacher and appends a 13 page glossary of commonly accepted grammar terms. Compare that with the following: ‘You will not be tested on your knowledge of grammatical terms, but on your knowledge of how to use grammar correctly.’ That’s the advice given to trainee teachers approaching the QTS literacy test at http://www.education.gov.uk/sta/professional/b00211208/literacy/content.
My point is this: to argue that literacy and numeracy are to be embedded in a similar fashion across the curriculum is disingenuous. I have to think actively about how to include numeracy in my language lessons, but every teacher is displaying his or her levels of functional literacy the moment they speak or write a word on the board. Teacher training specifications and support are clearly out of kilter with the depth of knowledge required by pupils even at KS2! At a time when ITT is in flux and the status of QTS is being challenged in some educational arenas, there is a clear disconnect between the resources and education of pupils and that of teachers with regard to the meta-language of literacy and indeed functional literacy itself. This needs to be addressed if teachers are not to be left feeling potentially vulnerable and embarrassed in class situations in which the results of variation in styles of grammar and literacy teaching become more evident. Some connected thinking is required in the DfE.
*‘Since an adverbial’s usual position is at the end of a sentence, it is
described as ‘fronted’ when at the front and ‘embedded’ when it is in the middle.’ Finally, you know!
Dr Karen Stears @DHSBClassics
Head of Classics