English grammar, punctuation and spelling test: an alternative letter for schools to send to parents?


As you are no doubt aware teachers in english primary schools are being asked to prepare children for the forthcoming SPAG test - devised by this government to test children at the age of 11 in spelling and grammar. On the Dept of Education's website there is a 'guidance letter' meant for schools to use to inform parents about it.


I thought that an alternative version might be useful: see what you think...


The questions in bold are taken directly from the official Department for Education letter.  The answers, however, are slightly different. The choice - as they say - is yours.


English grammar, punctuation and spelling test


Information for parents


What is the English grammar, punctuation and spelling test?


It has been suggested by some very experienced and respected educators that this is a completely pointless and costly piece of nonsense, brought in by Mr Gove and The Department of Education for political rather than sound educational purposes.


The Department of Education suggests that ‘Your child’s teacher will be able to explain what each part of the test covers’.

Unfortunately we are not entirely clear ourselves which pieces of research and evidence Mr Gove has based this test upon. We would like to reassure you that there is a clear and intelligent basis but we suggest that all parents write to him to find out for sure – and then let us know.



Why does my child have to take this test?


Good question.

It appears that Mr Gove thinks that we don’t already teach your child all these things.

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary


*NB He might include Handwriting as well, but he isn’t sure about this yet, so we suggest you don’t buy new pens and pencils for your child until we know just how important this is going to be.



How will my child benefit from the test?


Not much.  Actually, this test has the potential to actively damage your child’s achievement, motivation and enjoyment of all things relating to reading and writing: Forever.

Even when your child is able to name the different ‘bits’ in a sentence, it won’t be enough to provide any real and lasting benefits.  This test will not enable your child to become a confident and versatile reader and writer.

To give you a comparison: It’s like knowing all the names of the ingredients in an exotic recipe but then not being able to mix them together to create a tasty dish. But someone makes you write out the list of ingredients over and over again. Are you feeling hungry?

Dull worksheets, full of meaningless sentences and gaps to fill will rot your child’s brain and reduce their understanding of what real writing is and how exciting and flexible it can be.

Any enthusiasm and interest they have for reading and writing could gradually disappear along with this school’s collective will to live.


Is this an extra test?

No. It replaces the experienced and informed view of your child’s teacher; the qualified person who already plans in great detail to ensure that all the elements of reading and writing are taught in coherent and creative ways that will make sense to your child.

We did hear a rumour that under a directive to save money, and a belief that ‘the good old days were the best’, Mr Gove instructed his department to dust off some old 1950s papers and try to cleverly re-present them for children in the 21st Century.

It is true that The Department of Education stresses:

‘ …your child will be able to use these skills throughout their education and employment, and their adult life ‘

With that in mind you might want to start accessing careers advice for your child sooner rather than later. Your son/daughter needs to see that what they are learning in school has a direct link to their future aspirations.  There are many websites that offer lists of potential jobs from the 1950s.

Of course if you have a daughter you won’t need to spend as much time on this as 50% of women worked in the home and the other were secretaries. You might want to add a footnote in your letter to Mr Gove suggesting he adds a typewriting skills test, just for girls.


How long is the test?

Around eight pages of A4 – it will probably stretch about halfway across the classroom end to end.


What if my child finds the test difficult?

We want to work in partnership with you to minimise the levels of boredom and misery for your child.

Prior to the test in May 2013:

  • Talk to your child about the test and ensure that they fully understand how unimportant and irrelevant it is for their future success.
  • Please don’t go and spend money on practice workbooks. Making children miserable has been added to our job description – not yours.

Where can I find more information about the test?

Don’t bother. Spend your time more wisely and visit the library. Let your child choose a lovely picture book or something else they’ll find interesting to read.  These books are full of words and sentences put together in interesting ways. We call it grammar in context.


grammar article (523x640)


This article by Sue Dixon was  first published in the March 2013 edition of Teach Primary magazine . Click here to learn more about Teach Primary.










Comments are closed.