Wrong prescription for teaching English

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Peter Titmuss/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Peter Titmuss/Alamy

Thank you for the heartening piece by Michael Morpurgo (‘My spelling isn’t that great’, 18 May). When I started teaching English in 1971, we were free from restrictions on how to do it, so it was enjoyable, creative and challenging. The rot started to set in with Kenneth Baker’s prescriptive national curriculum in 1989, which prompted me to leave classroom English teaching. I pity those who remain, forced to follow Michael Gove’s even worse impositions on our young learners. Morpurgo’s analysis reminds me of a criticism of that approach to testing: “You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.”
Alasdair Donaldson
Maidenhead, Berkshire

• Michael Morpurgo is spot-on. Our nine-year-old granddaughter is expected to know grammatical terms I never came across at grammar school in the 60s. If the Conservatives have any education policy at all, it is to replace it in state schools with mere instruction. Another example: at primary school in the 50s we did division; for our children in the 70s and 80s it was sharing, which made so much more sense; now, for our grandchildren, it’s back to division. What does that say about our society?
Joy Webb
Penistone, South Yorkshire

• Pass notes (Rebranding maths as numeracy? It doesn’t add up, 19 May), in making the case for better numeracy, perpetuates a frequent confusion of maths with arithmetic. The latter is about addition, subtraction, multiplication etc – all essential for numeracy. Maths is about the abstract science of numbers and does require some effort to master. As someone who did well at maths but failed O-level arithmetic, I can attest that the latter is not necessary to excel at the former. It’s not unlike good writers who can’t spell.
Ian Watson

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