Reform school?

Declining standards of English are still a big concern, judging by the anticipated content of a government white paper due out today.

The reforms are expected to reverse much of what the Labour government brought in; such as the modular approach to examining, where pupils take a series of shorter exams spread out over two years rather than longer, more in-depth ones at the end of their studies.

Also set to return is marking pupils down – by up to five per cent – for poor use of punctuation and grammar in exams. Labour’s decision to scrap this system in 2003 has, according to education secretary Michael Gove, directly contributed to a drop in literacy skills.

‘Thousands of children – including some of our very brightest – leave school unable to compose a proper sentence, ignorant of basic grammar,’ he said. ‘The basic building blocks of English were demolished by those who should have been giving our children a solid foundation in learning.’

The move seems particularly timely, given the recent pattern which has seen celebrities practically lining up to declare the English language is more abused than that cat that was put in a bin. Emma Thompson took against slang at her old school; while Marks and Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose has stated that too many school leavers are ‘not fit for work’.

Actress Penelope Keith last week lent her (rather cultivated) voice to the cause, decrying – for one – the detrimental effect of social media like Twitter on English usage. She told the Sunday Telegraph that ‘there are a lot of people you can’t actually understand’, thanks to their overuse of ‘tweets, and twits and texts’.

A renewed focus on the importance of these ‘building blocks’ of language is almost certainly worth celebrating. But before we all send a Twit of triumph to Penelope, a question: is this reform likely to be enough, or is it more of a cursory nod in the right direction?

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