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Nick Gibb fluffs a SPAG question!

(98 Posts)
Anya Wed 04-May-16 08:19:11

Apparently Nick Gibb was asked a SPaG question on BBC World at One and got it wrong grin

The relevant bit of the interview went roughly like this:

Martha Kearney: Let me give you this sentence, “I went to the cinema after I’d eaten my dinner”. Is the word "after" there being used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition?
Nick Gibb: Well, it’s a proposition. “After” - it's...
MK: [Laughing]: I don’t think it is...
NG: “After” is a preposition, it can be used in some contexts as a, as a, word that coordinates a subclause, but this isn’t about me, Martha...
MK: No, I think, in this sentence it’s being used as a subordinating conjunction!
NG: Fine. This isn’t about me.

I think 'nickgibb' is a verb, as in 'He nickgibbed that interview, didn't he?'


daphnedill Wed 18-May-16 19:36:12

Tut! Tut! I hope those aren't references to our beloved Prime Minister! :-o

I doubt if your neighbour speaks the language of the Vikings, but if you're interested, a friend of mine contributed to a project about Viking DNA in the North West.

(Wow! This is way off-topic now!)

Mamie Wed 18-May-16 16:25:07

One of my neighbours has a red beard and hair and looks like a Viking. As the family seems to have been here for ever, he may very well be.
I don't think the patois is entirely Norman French though; I must re-read my Graham Robb!
I often start a class with adults by writing "the pig is in the barn" and "parliament convenes in October" on the board and asking them which one they understand and why. It usually leads to a really good discussion.

daphnedill Wed 18-May-16 15:33:49

Many of the Normans were of Viking origin, so some of the 'French' they brought to England was actually originally Germanic. Norman French was a mixture of different languages, which then influenced English, which was itself a Germanic language, which had been influenced by Vikings from a different part of Scandinavia and Romans. There were still a handful of Celtic words.

I agree with you about younger children (my experience was mainly with Year 7s) enjoying finding out about the origin of words. I always used to include something about the history of languages, whether or not it was in the NC. I also used to have a 'silly German word of the week' on a poster next to my board.

PS. Apparently 'slikkepott' means 'scrape pot'.

Mamie Wed 18-May-16 09:26:25

Oh that is interesting DD.
My neighbours are always teaching me patois and though most of it sounds like funny French there are some words that seem quite close to English. I had always assumed that the Normans took them to England, but I suppose they may have arrived with the men from the North in both countries.
I have always found that children in upper KS2 enjoy finding out about the origins of words.

daphnedill Tue 17-May-16 20:40:30

I think 'lickpot' is probably related to the Norwegian 'slikkepott', which is a kitchen utensil used for scraping. Normandy was conquered by Vikings, so they possibly brought the word with them. (Sorry, I know that's irrelevant, but at least it might engage the average 11 year old rather than technical terms for grammatical structures.)

PS. Don't you just love Michael Rosen? 'Were' and 'had' (if I had...) are just about the only two commonly used subjunctives in English and 'had' is the same as the indicative mood.

trisher Tue 17-May-16 19:25:11

grin love those- the Norman word reminds me of the kennings I did in school-a 2 word phrase as a name for something. Some of the children who had trouble reading produced really imaginative versions.

Mamie Tue 17-May-16 18:45:46

Don’t worry, I thought it must be that.
Two irrelevant and entirely unrelated things about language.
I found out recently that the Norman patois word for the index finger is un "lickpot". No idea how it would be spelt as it has probably never been written down.
And from Michael Rosen,
"If I were you
Be that as it may
Use a subjunctive every day."

daphnedill Tue 17-May-16 18:39:15

You're right, Mamie. For some reason, my computer is running very slowly and I was too impatient to scroll back to check. My apologies :-(

trisher Tue 17-May-16 18:09:47

For MazieD who thinks there is nothing dodgy going on. I think acting as an adviser and putting your own programme on the list is unacceptable

Mamie Tue 17-May-16 16:52:17

Reading back through the thread Daphnedill I suspect you are confusing me with MaizieD who was talking about phonics.
Just to clarify a little further - when I talk about KaL I am not talking about the ridiculous SPaG test, I am using the much broader definition which was part of the NLS and the NC at KS1 and 2.
The point I was trying to make is that I think KaL is a significant part of language learning in the broadest sense, but the other parts, speaking and listening, reading and writing and my own passion, the use of information technology to develop language and learning are just as important.
I am sorry if that wasn't clear.

Mamie Tue 17-May-16 16:03:34

Daphnedill are you confusing me with someone else? I have never said that I think children should be taught the subjunctive and my only mention of phonics was to say in my last post that I don't think it is the be all and end all of teaching reading.

daphnedill Tue 17-May-16 15:47:24


I'm a grammar nerd, so you don't need to convince me that knowledge ABOUT language is important/interesting. I also think it can be fun, but I'm not convinced that many school age children share my passion. However, do you really think an 11 year old needs to know what a subjunctive is? There are only a handful of examples where it survives in modern English and I really don't accept that primary school children need to know the technical term.

I'm sorry, but I'm struggling to understand the direct relationship between phonics and knowledge ABOUT language, so I'm not sure why you keep mentioning phonic teaching.

PS. I agree with you about speaking and listening, both of which seem to be relegated in favour of hammering home irrelevant technical terms.

Luckygirl Tue 17-May-16 11:00:05

Mamie - your last sentence sums it up. The government should not be involved in the education system at the micromanaging level that they are - they should provide the funds and leave the professionals to teach, to asses and monitor the children's progress and to make sure that a rounded education is provided.

I loved the website posted earlier where a teacher was describing "exclamatory phrases" as defined by the government. One oft used example is "What a load of bollocks these SATs are!"

trisher Tue 17-May-16 10:28:08

Mamie what a wonderful summing up, thank you.
I wish this was written on the wall of every classroom in the country
"judge less and learn more."

Anya Tue 17-May-16 07:09:52

Totally agree Mamie with all the above and your point about the importance of spoken language is one that has been largely ignored. Our primary means of communication is still speech.

Mamie Tue 17-May-16 05:50:01

Knowledge about language is important. People who understand the structure of language, working with people who understand how children (especially young children) learn need to agree on what is essential, develop a programme for learning and introduce it systematically with careful piloting and revision. Assessment criteria need to be developed and piloted alongside
We need to recognise that KaL does not teach reading and writing. We need to remember that KaL can be fun.
We need to remember that it all starts with speaking and listening.
Whilst I recognise the successes of phonic teaching, I do not think it is the be all and end all of teaching reading. I do not think that books are the only source either, we ignore online sources at our peril. Have people listened to their grandchildren playing Minecraft? The richness of the language is amazing.
We need to recognise the importance of visual literacy.
We need to give opportunities for writing on a range of subjects and in different genres, recognising achievement and giving feedback on how to improve. People learn to write by writing.
We need to recognise that the literacies of our youth are not necessarily the literacies of today, judge less and learn more.
We need to look back on the work that has been done in the past, use it and change it for the present.
We need to value the work of all teachers in all phases, KS2 should listen and learn from KS1 and secondary teachers should go to primary schools with an open mind, listen, learn and build on what the children know, understand and can do.
And we need to get rid of this wretched government which is destroying our education system.

daphnedill Mon 16-May-16 21:43:09

I agree with you, vampirequeen.

vampirequeen Mon 16-May-16 21:10:17

DH is dyslexic. He was told he was stupid because he couldn't learn to read and write the way the system wanted him to. Fortunately he was able to develop his own strategies however he still struggles with spelling in many ways e.g. missing letters or when in doubt stick in an e.

Children don't fit neatly into little boxes. Some may suit synthetic phonics whilst others may do better reading 'real' books. What a strange term...'real' book. What's a pretend book lol?

Sad as it is, like my DH, some children will never achieve the perceived norms. They're not failures. They're children who, for a variety of reasons, struggle to learn.

Why do we educate children? I'd like to think it's to help every child achieve his/her full potential. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case.

daphnedill Mon 16-May-16 18:46:29


Are you on commission?

daphnedill Mon 16-May-16 18:45:50

Ahem?! What does this have to do with SPaG tests?


Phonics don't work for everybody - FACT!

The results of an evaluation are due to be published in 2018. There is anecdotal evidence that comprehension is not as it should be, even though word recognition is good.

So what does this have to do with knowledge ABOUT language? Anybody?

trisher Mon 16-May-16 15:54:27

I'm not going to argue with you about the friend you are so insistent has done such a sterling job. You obviously refuse to see any faults.
As far as the reading goes you are manifestly wrong. The people who are illiterate and who fail, do so because they have had drummed into them for their entire school careers that they are failures. Only when we realise that there are other means of communication and these are promoted in schools will that change. Meantime these children will continue to struggle and be subjected to all the fads and fashions for the teaching of reading. It is perfectly possible to be creative with language without being able to read well. When it is a struggle to learn to read a creative approach can provide incentive and focus, far more than phonics or any other programme. You, as many teachers do, take a narrow approach to a problem which needs a much more open mind. The illiterates in prisons have taken their creativity into another area because it was never utilized properly and crime is a culturally acceptable alternative. Incidentally I don't consider Richard Branson to be part of the creative industries- he is a business man.
But you will continue to believe phonics is some sort of a magic bullet and some children will struggle to learn to read and suffer for it.

MaizieD Mon 16-May-16 14:34:03

Are you seriously saying that she had no other choice than to benefit financially?

Are you seriously suggesting that she had no right to take her programme to the market place? That someone who develops and sells a good product isn't supposed to benefit financially from it? What would you suggest that she should have done? Gone away like a good girl and forgotten all about it?

That she has been forced into charging £3000+ for schools because no one else was able to do it?

As far as I can see her rates for training are about the same as for any other independent synthetic phonics training. There are quite a few people doing training, you know; either independently or attached to a particular programme. It's just that you don't hear about them as they are not the focus of a smear campaign.

I'm intrigued as to where the £3,000 figure came from; it sounds suspiciously like the limit for the Matched Funding scheme which ran for a couple of years. In fact, it turns out that very little of it was spent by schools on training. Most schools spent it on resources. And before you say anything, her programme was acquired by Oxford University Press about 10 years ago, profits from the resources go to them. As they have a huge marketing operation and a massive presence in schools it isn't really surprising that the programme is one of the top sellers in the SP programme market.

There is zealotry and there is blind ignorance.
If you are implying that I am ignorant you are way off the mark. The number of factual errors you have come up with in this exchange seem to indicate that the boot is on the other foot.

Her success has actually been questioned by a lot of experts.

Really? Are you suggesting that schools who use her programme with excellent results are fiddling the figures? Perhaps you'd like to give me some examples.

^ I am much more interested in how we enable children to use language and be creative.^

That's fine. But I will say that it's pretty difficult to be creative with language if you can't read or write it. Research (which I can cite if you wish) has shown that the richest source of vocabulary is the written media; it must be hard to be creative with a restricted vocabulary.

And the argument that some people succeed who have poor reading/writing skills takes no account of the thousands who don't. For every Richard Branson there are hundreds of illiterates in our prisons. Figures published a few years ago suggested that there were some 9 million illiterate adults in Britain. I wonder how many of them have wonderful fulfilling creative jobs and don't mind being unable to read books, magazines and newspapers. Or food labels, or instructions for taking medicine, or the TV listings, or their children's school reports, or being unable to read books to their children and grandchildren?

Sad really when there is such a simple and effective way of teaching most children to read and people do their damnedest to prevent it being used.

daphnedill Mon 16-May-16 11:02:06


I'm not an expert on reading for young children. However, I do not accept that there is only one way to teach reading and that one reading scheme is the ONLY way. My daughter could read quite well before she started primary school and was assessed, at age 7, as having a reading age of 14. She just picked up words and spelling patterns. My son could hardly read anything when he was 6, but almost overnight was able to read 'real books' and has never looked back. His primary school at the time used synthetic phonics, but they didn't work for him.

I'm a zealot about pupil achievement, but not revering one method as the only answer.

I have studied linguistics at postgraduate level and cognitive scientists are not all in agreement about how children acquire language and learn how to read. My own interest is in second language acquisition, but there is an overlap with first language learning.

In any case, the current SPaG tests have little to do with learning to read. They don't even test pupils' ability to use language. They test the ability to KNOW about language.

trisher Mon 16-May-16 09:13:22

Are you seriously saying that she had no other choice than to benefit financially?
That she has been forced into charging £3000+ for schools because no one else was able to do it? There is zealotry and there is blind ignorance.
Her success has actually been questioned by a lot of experts. As always there are opposing factions on the subject. I really stopped getting involved in the reading argument years ago having seen some methods work well with some children and prove completely useless with others. I am much more interested in how we enable children to use language and be creative. And before you insist that reading is the only way this can be achieved can I tell you that that is completely inaccurate. There are many people working in the creative industries whose reading skills are limited. They have been supported and encouraged to develop their skills in spite of their difficulties. We should be doing this for all children. This idea that if you can't read you can't do anything creates a culture of failure which is why children become disillusioned and stop trying.

MaizieD Sun 15-May-16 23:52:52

Oh dear. I expect the lady was getting on quietly doing what she was extremely good at until she was asked to join the team developing the National Literacy Strategy in the late 1990s. At which point we could have used her expertise to develop effective guidance on teaching children to read and not had another decade of 20% of children each year failing to learn. And there would probably have been no 'commercial' programme and no selling as a consequence.

That this 20% represents a figure of over 100,000 children a year might not seem terribly important to some people but, if the children I worked with were anything to go by, it had very sad consequences for them as individuals. It's hardly 'zealotry' to wish to improve the life chances of children by using and promoting an approach to the teaching of reading which has been proven over and over again to work for the greatest number of children and which has the weight of decades of reading research findings to support it. Cognitive scientists (you know, the ones who spend their time researching how the mind works and how people learn) have no doubts but somehow many teachers will uncritically embrace ludicrous 'magic bullets' such a Brain Gym while resolutely shutting their eyes to anything which has a whiff of scientific validity about it.

Yes, I'm a zealot.