Teaching grammar and testing grammar in the English primary school

Kimberly Safford, The Open University.
Co-authors: David Messer, Jill McLachlan and Kim Walker, The Open University; Kerenza Ghosh and Stephanie Laird, Roehampton University; Ann Disney and Deborah Wright, Oxford Brookes University.
An investigation of the impact on teachers and teaching of the grammar element of the statutory test in Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) in England.

This study explored the impact on teachers and teaching of the grammar element of the statutory test in Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) in primary schools in England. It drew on teacher interviews with 16 teachers in two local authorities and a national online survey for teaching staff (N=170). Grammar teaching resources and lesson planning formats used by teachers were also scrutinised and a paper questionnaire given to 27 Teaching Assistants in one of the above local authorities. SPaG attainment patterns nationally and in four local authorities were also examined, specifically in relation to pupils’ ethnicity, languages, deprivation and special educational needs.

Key findings were:

  • Time spent teaching decontextualized and contextualised grammar has increased significantly;
  • Grammar is now taught explicitly and formally as a classroom literacy routine;
  • The grammar test format influences teaching content and approaches;
  • Teachers observe that pupils enjoy learning grammar and taking the test;
  • Teachers disagree about the extent to which explicit grammar teaching and testing have a positive impact on pupils’ language and literacy skills;
  • Teachers feel more confident about teaching grammar;
  • Ethnic and linguistic minority pupils perform as well as, or better than, white and native English speaking pupils on the SPaG test;
  • Pupil socioeconomic deprivation is the strongest indicator of low performance on SPaG;
  • Socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils perform better on SPaG when they are learning in classrooms that are linguistically and ethnically diverse

Safford, Kimberly (2016). Teaching Grammar and Testing Grammar in the English Primary School: The Impact on Teachers and their Teaching of the Grammar Element of the Statutory Test in Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG). Changing English, 23(1) pp. 3–21.

View the article based on the outcome of this research


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