‘I ain’t no clue, but we learned it yesterday’: losing our way with the Year 6 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test (FORUM 3)




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Format: Article

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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In 2012, head teachers responded to the proposed new Year 6 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test (commonly known as the SPaG or GPS test) with warnings of curriculum narrowing, teaching to tests, and misery for pupils and families. Despite head teachers’ opposition to the test, seven cohorts of Year 6 pupils have now taken it. This article considers the head teachers’ warnings in the light of evidence from recent ethnographic fieldwork with Year 5 and 6 children in an English primary school. The history and rationale behind the introduction of the test are discussed. It is then suggested that the emphasis on teaching the concepts and terminology required for success in the GPS test intersects with schools’ accountability mechanisms, leading in some settings to the teaching of formulaic writing that has little to do with meaning, creativity, purpose or audience.

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