Teaching of Writing in Schools: Authors Express Concerns

9 May 2016

Members of the Society of Authors have issued a statement warning about the detrimental effects of current trends in Government policy on the teaching of writing to school children.

Members who write for children from both the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group and the Educational Writers Group have spoken out against increasingly restrictive rules and testing in spelling, punctuation and grammar which threaten to undermine children’s pleasure in writing and their powers of creativity and self-expression.

The statement calls on the Government to

… allow the current generation of school children in England to enjoy language, to be empowered by their skill in it, and not to become tangled in rules which have no application outside the narrow confines of a National Test. Amongst these children must be the next generation of novelists, screenwriters, biographers, poets and science writers. We need our children to become fluent, eager and expressive writers, able to persuade, entrance and uplift with language, able to create empathy and delight in their readers. We cannot risk destroying their enjoyment, confidence and power at such an early age.

Individual authors who feel strongly are posting personal blogs on the issue. Nicola Morgan, Chair of Children's Writers and Illustrators Group Committee, has written about grammar on her own website:

The problem for children at school, under today’s government and many before them, is that we can objectively measure ability to name parts but we can’t so easily measure ability to write with the clarity and style intended. And governments are desperate to measure. Unfortunately, in this desperation they risk throwing everything else out: structure and style, clarity and beauty. And love of language. While teaching some bonkers ‘rules’ along the way. Read more

Meanwhile, Anne Rooney, Chair of the Educational Writers Group Committee, has posted on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, highlighting the the case of exclamation marks which, according to new rules, should only be used with a sentence that starts with 'What' or 'How': 

Children learn by example. We want them to read, and they learn to write through reading. If they read good books, they will come across exclamation marks used properly. Won't they then wonder why the rules for using them don't match use-in-practice? Of course they will. It's not as though exclamation marks are only safe in the hands of grown-ups. It isn't like not letting them drive or drink alcohol or join the army - all things they can do when they are older but are against the rules in primary school. No one is going to be hurt by a sharp exclamation mark. Read more 

David Almond, author of Skellig, has also commented:

Language is a fluid, flexible, beautiful thing. Children instinctively know this. They learn how to talk, to sing, to converse by falling in love with language, by delighting in their own skills, by sharing and exploring those skills with others. Learning to read and to write is a natural development of this process. Current government policy interferes with this process. We do our children great harm by insisting too early that they analyse and explain exactly what they are doing. Such an approach is deeply pessimistic. Why do we not trust, celebrate and encourage the natural human ability to explore, celebrate, enjoy and control language? Why do we want to tell our children that they are wrong and that they fail? Why do government ministers think they know more than teachers who have devoted their lives to the education of the nation's children? Why do we want to make a natural beautiful human ability seem so rule-bound and so damn hard? 

Get involved

Please express your support by commenting below and circulating the statement and blogs, and by mentioning @Soc_of_Authors on Twitter.