One of the most dismaying features of the debate about the English curriculum is that the Government pays no attention to research. It has been clearly established in project after project that teaching grammar has no effect on pupils’ ability to write correct formal English. This does not mean that explicit teaching of the relevant genres of formal written English has no effect.This was borne out in the results of the Wigan Language Project. Book 1 taught many interesting facts about language (including the grammar of the clause in English and other languages)* but no-one expected that this of itself would enable the pupils to pass exams across the curriculum.
Book 1 was a preparation for the work on abstract language in Book 2 and discourse structures in Book 3. These were based on a linguistic analysis of school textbooks across the curriculum: the dominant features were explicitly taught (using the methods of Teaching English as a Foreign Language). The systematic study of these books had the effect of almost doubling the GCSE results. When the school policy abandoned the course, the results fell back to the national average.Even the LINC materials told the pupils what the compilers of the course thought they ought to know about language rather than what they needed to know. No-one related the effect of the course on GCSE results
If the Government is serious about enabling pupils to master the language of learning they must apply the scientific method to the problem:
(1) Analyze the target language (academic language)
(2) Teach the most important features
(3) Test the results.
We did this at Shevington High School twenty years ago with startlingly positive results. Is it perhaps time that someone in Government took notice?