Michael Rosen criticises ‘outdated’ approach to teaching children to write

Michael Rosen has said the primary school curriculum is full of “outdated, rigid, misleading, prescriptive, disputed terms”, based on the “false assumption” that grammar is either right or wrong.

The author and former children’s laureate, whose books include We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, Little Rabbit Foo Foo and Chocolate Cake, criticised the “rigid, prescriptive, formulaic” approach to teaching children to write, saying it is “writing by numbers” rather than about creativity.

Writing in The Guardian and addressing Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, he said his social media timeline is full of parents bemoaning the fact they do not know what “fronted adverbials” are or why their children need to learn about them.

He said: “Now their children are schooling from home, the idiosyncrasies of the primary grammar curriculum are confronting them.”

Rosen, who was admitted to hospital in March and spent seven weeks on a ventilator with Covid-19, added: “The primary curriculum now includes all this so-called grammar, which to many of us is a package of outdated, rigid, misleading, prescriptive, disputed terms, all based on the false assumption that ‘grammar’ is either right or wrong.

“Somewhere along the line – have you noticed? – these grammatical features turned into instructions to children on how to write.

“So now, I gather, they have to create sentences using fronted adverbials, relative clauses and expanded noun phrases – preferably after a preposition. It is writing by numbers.

“I know this complicates things for politicians who like simple answers, but there are people in society who write.

“We are writers. One way of working out how to help primary schoolchildren to write may have been to get writers to explain how we do it.

Michael Rosen
Michael Rosen

“I have interviewed quite a few writers, and I’ve learned that we do it in many different ways. There is a plurality and flexibility.

“We avoid the rigid, prescriptive, formulaic approach being demanded in the primary school curriculum.

Rosen has been an outspoken critic of the Government and supported Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the 2019 general election.

He often shares his thoughts about literature in education and has marched in protest against cuts to libraries.