Teaching grammar and testing grammar in the English primary school: The impact on teachers and teaching of the grammar element of the statutory test in Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) in England

Safford, Kimberly; Messer, David; McLachlan, Jill and Walker, Kim (2015). Teaching grammar and testing grammar in the English primary school: The impact on teachers and teaching of the grammar element of the statutory test in Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) in England. UKLA, London.

URL: https://ukla.org/research/projects/details//teachi...

Abstract

In the academic year 2012-2013, Year 6 primary school pupils in England sat the first of a new statutory test in Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (‘SPaG’) as part of their end of primary school assessments in English. This UKLA funded research examines the impact on teachers and their teaching of the grammar element of the statutory SPaG test. The aim of the research has been to evaluate the nature and the extent of changes to the teaching of grammar and to wider literacy teaching since the introduction of SPaG. The research explores teachers’ responses to teaching grammar to a statutory test format, and how teachers have implemented rapid curriculum change in their classrooms. The research explores issues of teacher knowledge, understanding, skill and enjoyment in relation to grammar, at their own level and for teaching pupils. In this research, teachers also discuss their observations of how pupils have responded to explicit grammar teaching and the grammar test. As part of this research we accessed Department for Education data on pupils by gender, ethnicity, language and deprivation in relation to SPaG attainment in 2014, to examine SPaG attainment patterns nationally. The research also analysed SPaG attainment for groups of pupils in four Local Authorities (anonymised as Castlehaven, Longcliffe, Narrowgate and Norchester), specifically in relation to pupils’ ethnicity, languages, deprivation and special educational needs.

Main findings:

In English primary schools, since the introduction of the statutory SPaG test:

• 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.

Additional desk-based research indicates:

• 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.

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