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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 January, 2005, 17:27 GMT
Formal grammar is 'ineffective'
Hand writing
Children have to learn about grammar and sentence structure
Formal grammar is not an effective way of teaching children to write, say researchers at the University of York.

The government-funded study claims this resolves the longstanding debate as to whether drilling pupils in grammar improves their writing skills.

"There are better ways of teaching writing," says Richard Andrews of the university's English Review Group.

The findings are based on what is claimed as the largest review there has been of research on the subject.

"This does not mean to say that the teaching of formal aspects of grammar is not interesting or useful in its own right," says Professor Andrews.

High priority

"However, in a pressured curriculum, where the development of literacy is a high priority, there will be better ways of teaching writing and our findings suggest that the teaching of 'sentence combining' may be one of the more effective approaches."

The teaching technique of "sentence combining" is defined as "combining short sentences into longer ones, and embedding elements into simple sentences to make them more complex".

The study is based on an analysis of previous research produced since the beginning of the last century - and it concludes that teaching formal grammar is not the best way to develop children's writing.

The university says this review "discovered no evidence that the teaching of traditional grammar, specifically word order or syntax, was effective in assisting writing quality or accuracy among five to 16 year olds".

The study has been funded by the Department for Education and Skills, via a unit at the Institute of Education in London.

'Tried and trusted'

But it concludes that the national curriculum, which promotes the study of grammar, should be revised.

At present the literacy strategy in England teaches primary school pupils about nouns, verbs and pronouns and other parts of speech.

The report concludes that "the teaching of formal grammar (and its derivatives) are [sic] ineffective".

The Department for Education and Skills said: "We don¿t expect teachers will use any single teaching method in isolation. The national strategies gives teachers the tools to personalise the teaching according to the purpose of the writing pupils are engaged in."

The Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins said it was surprising that this report should come to a different conclusion to the "tried-and-trusted methods" of helping children to improve their writing skills.

"At the very least parents should have the choice of sending their children to schools where traditional approaches to literacy have been adopted," he said.

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