It’s cruel not to teach children grammar…Pupils (or students as they are mysteriously called) are not taught such rules of spelling as may exist and certainly are not tested on them. As for adverbs, subjects, objects or clauses, let alone such fabulous monsters as subjunctives, children are left in sublime ignorance of them…At its worst, educational theory that rejects grammar does so because of a mad idea that children are noble savages better left to authenticity and the composition of rap lyrics. That way lies the scrapheap and jail. Grammar sets them free. No one would think it a kindness to give a teenager a car without teaching her to drive, and that includes the rules of the road.

– Dot Wordsworth, columnist at The Spectator


Matters most

Of all school disciplines English language matters most. Clarity, confidence, communication are the bedrock of every other endeavour in education and in life: from physics to marketing, from engineering to law. Neglecting, downgrading and generally dumbing standards is a greater cruelty to children than anything visited on them by a clumsy exam board…It is wicked not to emphasise the difference between chatty street slang and formal, universally understood, clarity and correctness.

Libby Purves

Good English

Whether the linguistics experts like it or not, there remains an idea of ‘standard English’ as it is spoken in Britain; there are different but related standards in other countries where English is the principal or a principal language, notably in America, but also in Australia, India and the Far East. These standards are set by an educated class within those communities: and those who wish to be included, or to consider themselves included, in that class must subscribe to the rules.

Standard English is also a measure that certain of us impose upon others — those applying for a job, for example, or seeking other favours. It is a fact that people are judged by how they speak and write, however offensive or unfair that may seem to some. This is partly the legacy of a popular grammatical movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose textbooks remain on the shelves of many professional writers to this day. It is also because of the British trait of looking down upon people whom we consider less educated than we are: for a grammatically precise command of English and an ability to choose words correctly have long been considered by many to be the mark of an educated person. Millions of English speakers believe there is such a thing as good English, and aspire to write it and speak it. Few Britons in recent decades will have learnt the standard in schools. As a result, they cannot use the precision tool of our language to its full capabilities.

Simon Heffer