Michael Gove’s gerundial confusion
Today, the Times Educational Supplement reports on the spelling and grammar tests being forced upon primary school children against the advise of educationalists:
Experts consulted by the Department for Education described the tests, which will be taken by 500,000 Year 6 students this summer, as “really flawed” exams that ignore academic research on the best ways to teach grammar.
Debra Myhill, a professor of education at the University of Exeter, and Ruth Miskin, an expert on phonics and member of the national curriculum review team, were among experts who raised concerns about the spelling and grammar (Spag) tests when consulted by the government.
They are concerned that the tests do not ask students to use grammar in context, meaning they will not be able to apply rules more generally. “I did a very detailed analysis of the test and I had major reservations about it,” Professor Myhill told TES. “I think it’s a really flawed test.”
Today, coincidentally, my son was doing a practice paper for this test. It’s been provided by educational publisher CGP*. Here it is for sales online.
This is question 7, scanned as completed by my son:
The question asks children to say which words are nouns, and which are verbs. He says ‘flying’ is a verb, which is correct (Clever boy. It’s a doing verb**, he tells me confidently, as in ‘Gove is really flying by the seat of his pants with these ill-considered tests’ (I paraphrase).
Except, he’s wrong. Foolish boy. ‘Flying’ is a gerundial noun, as in “Flying by the seat of one’s pants in educational matters is unbecoming to a Secretary of State for Education. That’s what the Collins English Dictionary people say.
So is he right or wrong? Technically, it is a verbal noun, so it’s a noun, but are they expecting him to know that, or do they want him to display his ‘verbs are doing words’ understanding. I honestly don’t know what answer is expected of an 11 year old, even of one who’s already sent chapters of adventure novels of to publishers, and who was a published comic-book author at the age of 7.
All of which goes to support Professor Myhill’s view that these grammar tests, with words out of context, are indeed “really flawed”.
But I’m not sure Michael Gove** will care much that my son may grow up to believe that gerundial nouns are part of some kind of leftwing plot to reduce educational standards.
* I’m not clear on what basis CGP have set these sample tests, and what advice they’ve had from the Department for Education, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the distinction between noun and verb, taken out of context in this way, is likely to figure in the actual tests next month.
** Quick further research suggest it might be called the present or gerund participle of the verb.
*** Talking of nouns as verbs, I now suddenly remember that ‘gove’ can be a verb too.