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Grammar – The Fronted Adverbial

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Michael Rosen has written an article in the Guardian 23 January 2021, asking the Minister for Education, Gavin Williamson if he could tell parents  what a fronted adverbial is? The article has led to an outcry of support on Twitter from parents, many of whom are professional writers, who are outraged by the primary school grammar curriculum, introduced by Michael Gove. They say that this prescriptive form of writing is inappropriate for teaching primary schoolchildren, and is stultifying creativity. 
Even a letter to Santa Claus comes with a full set of instructions for its composition! 
 
Many parents have become fully aware of these requirements through home schooling their children, during lockdowns in the pandemic. Forced to consult Google themselves to find answers to assist their children, they say that their children’s work has been criticised for not using enough examples of prepositions, relative clauses and of course, fronted adverbials. The ability to use the subjunctive  is also required and punctuation is criticised.
In case you are wondering, what is a fronted adverbial, it is a word that goes at the start of a sentence and denotes the action following it. Everybody clear on that?
 
The primary school grammar curriculum could be said to be an example of the Government taking the proverbial .

In the nineteen sixties I worked in London stores. Worked as an Insurance Clerk in the City of London during the nineteen seventies. Divorced in the nineteen nineties. Now I am a retired Civil Servant, managing home and garden and escaping onto social media whenever possible.

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Education

My experiences of teaching from both sides of the desk

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First of all, I should say that I have never been a schoolteacher or a college lecturer.  My working life was largely office based, which I mainly enjoyed. As far as teaching goes, my experiences are over forty yearsago.  In my twenties, I assisted students with reading in an Adult Literacy Class. As a late reader myself, I remember the effort to learn to read at the age of eight, and grew to hate the “Three Little Pigs”, the reading book used at the time. Then I was a Mother Helper at my daughter’s Playgroup.  There I realised how difficult it is to control large groups of children, when a three old boy injured another child, by throwing a toy car at him. His swift and expert aim, missing an eye by a fraction, was a complete surprise to me and no doubt to the unfortunate child.  Finally, I became a Sunday School teacher. I fared a little better here, as the majority of the children were on their best behaviour. There was only one child, who I often had to physically reseat in his chair!  
 
I can only speak of my own experience of teachers in primary school in the 1950s, up to leaving university in 1969. I am not qualified to write on the changes in education that have taken place over the years. My own children’s schooling in the 1970s and 1980s passed off uneventfully from comprehensive school to sixth form college and university.  
I read in the media of parent’s difficulties in getting their children into schools of their choice and of the stress of teachers, dealing with ever increasing workloads. Since Covid-19, teachers are now front-line workers, risking their health and forced to use online technology for remote learning. 
In the 1950s my own primary school experience coincided with the conquering of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary, believed to be the first man to reach the summit.  I recorded the progress of learning my multiplication tables, by ascending to a new base camp each time a table was mastered. I did this by placing a peg in the appropriate place, on a picture of the Mountain, until finally a peg was placed triumphantly at the top!  I remember having difficulty with one teacher, when I persisted in writing the figure eight, by drawing two 0s one on top of the other.  She became exasperated when she thought that I was adding up incorrectly, until I explained to her that was the way I wrote 8. I don’t think that she was too happy with the explanation either. 
 
After the initial success of climbing Mount Everest, my progress in Maths was close on zero in secondary school.  Algebra was a complete mystery to me, and so at the age of seventeen, I found myself taking a GCE 0 level in Biology, as either a Maths or Science subject was needed to get into University. Biology itself had been a struggle, until a teacher arrived in the nick of time to capture my interest in human physiology, enabling me to pass the examination. 
 
It has to be said that there are elements of luck in education. The previous science teacher had sadly been unable to teach and was dismissed from her job, which was unusual at that time.  In 2010 a BBC Panorama programme revealed that only eighteen UK teachers had been struck off for incompetence in forty years. It was estimated that seventeen thousand more teachers were not up to the job.  Luckily, having read “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark, I can say that I never met such a character in the course of my school days.  Miss Brodie exerted undue influence on her pupils, with her extreme political views and favouritism, while asserting that she was in her prime.  The book illustrated the responsibility of being the teacher of young impressionable children. 
Whatever excuses can be made for bad teachers, in my opinion there can be none made for bad college lecturers, who do not have potentially unruly or difficult children, with which to contend. Those students who reach them should already be “creme de la creme” I had a bad experience as a fresher, going to a redbrick university to read laws. 
 
I opted to study Roman History, which I thought would be interesting. However, I could see that this was not working out, when a few weeks into the course, the lecturer announced, quite proudly I thought, that, nothing he said in his lectures would be of any help in passing the examination at the end of the course. I swiftly changed to Roman Law, where the lecturer was proficient and I quickly grasped the concept of the paterfamilias and how to sell a slave!  I can see from reading forums that students are still having trouble with bad lecturers. One suggestion for dealing with this was that the student’s union should be consulted! 
Given the high personal cost of further education, it is imperative that any such failings are addressed. 

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