Why can’t schools teach kids to write right when they’re young?

Why can’t schools teach kids to write right when they’re young?Yet again, here in the England, the government education wallahs are changing their minds about the way exams and assessments are undertaken in their final few years in secondary (high) school.

My heart bleeds for teachers in this secondary age group who have to put up with new governments’ frequently changing notions of how the curriculum should work out. No sooner is a new set of parameters meted by HM Gov and rolled out, with teachers struggling to implement them and make them work in practice, that HM Gov brings out a new set of bright ideas.

We need to focus on the educational system at a much earlier age

It’s no secret that in England and many other so-called “developed” countries, levels of literacy are not as high as they should be. In fact in some places, they are bloody awful.

But as anyone who has been through the educational process in England or anywhere else in the “developed” world knows, making never-ending changes to the education system when pupils are in their mid-teens benefits the politicians and snobby-nosed educationalists much more than it does the pupils. If literacy and numeracy issues aren’t under control by the time kids are this age, no end of tinkering with the secondary system will solve the problem.

Literacy and numeracy need to be plumbed into children’s minds much earlier on.

So why is writing right so important, even at this relatively early age?

Do you remember learning your “times tables” in maths lessons when you were a kid? They were considered to be supremely boring but most of us had to memorize them, like it or not. We had to learn to do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in our heads. We had to learn how to solve simple maths-related problems.

Result? Despite the fact that after the age of 16 my maths education became a tumultuous disaster, the drumming-into my brain of times tables etc. stayed with me and have ensured that even to this day I can cope with simple arithmetic.

Good, basic writing is the same

Just like memorizing your times tables in grade/primary school, learning basic spelling and grammar was a pain in the ass. Your tenses, verb conjugations, spellings and all the rest of it were boring, boring, boring.

And just like those tedious times tables in math, what you learned in basic spelling and grammar should have set you up for your most essential verbal communication in your adult life.

But in recent times, the basic times tables’ equivalents in grammar and spelling somehow have become elitist and snooty. Now, it’s cool to stick apostrophes in unmentionable places, dangle participles over cliffs and stuff exclamation marks up every available orifice.

So-called blogging experts defiantly sneer at good grammar and spelling saying it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make in your writing, because to try to be correct means you’re being a “writing snob.” It seems the correct usage of language has become a social class issue …

Funnily enough that makes me wonder if the same so-called experts would be so fiercely militant saying “it doesn’t matter” should their clients under-pay them due to poor adding skills in maths… I don’t think so, do you? Yet the two issues are parallel.

Good basic arithmetic and good basic spelling and grammar are the “three Rs” that our grandparents and great-grandparents banged on about and guess what – they had a point.

OK, although I’m picky about grammar and spelling mistakes which can make you a) look stupid/uneducated or b) be misunderstood, a few non-critical mistakes in your writing aren’t exactly a hanging offence as I point out in this article.

So where’s the problem?

Why can't schools teach grammar and spelling at kids' early ages?In England in particular you will hear lots of opposition to traditional schooling methods including, as I did from my 10-yr-old son’s English teacher at his parents’ evening, commenting on his spelling, grammar and syntax mistakes, “we don’t worry about those mistakes because we don’t want to obstruct the creative flow.”

Bullsh*t. You don’t obstruct the creative flow by gently nudging kids into using more-or-less accurate grammar/spelling etc. in what they’re writing. And what’s more if you don’t do it when they’re young – and are capable of absorbing the lessons like a sponge absorbs water – you’ve wasted an incredibly valuable opportunity to give them useful tools for the future … just as useful as those times tables.


In my son’s case, since he has been at university (in his 2nd year now) he has been sending me all his course work for a proof-read and sometimes, a copy edit. I’ve also shown him how to proof-read his work himself.

What I have noticed is that although in his first year his grammar/syntax/etc. did need a bit of a polish up here and there, since the start of his second year his stuff is much, much better.

It ain’t rocket science. Learning to goof-proof his writing may have been made easier for my son by me, but it could have been made easier by anyone or any service offering to nudge him on to the right path.

Or, and – much more to the point – it could have been made much  easier for him, if he had had the right literacy help and encouragement from primary school onwards.

So why didn’t he get that help? Was it really due to a PC reluctance to “disturb the creative flow?”

Or was it due to a contemporary, socially unpleasant move to bring him and many others back down to a democratically acceptable level of illiteracy?

What do you think?

Business English Quick Tips will be back next week.

Get those basics right whatever your age:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc




  1. I haven’t been inside schools for a while, but during my supply teaching days in primary schools I was always surprised to see that the little ones had to understand words like onomatopoeia, yet when it came to spelling it didn’t matter (as you said) “we don’t worry about those mistakes because we don’t want to obstruct the creative flow.”
    I thought it was getting better, but seeing displays at post GCSE colleges riddled with spelling mistakes (do the tutors EVER look at them?) fills me with despair 🙁

    • I know exactly what you mean, Angelika. I have even seen spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes made by teachers in both primary and secondary schools. What really irks me is that provided you implant correct writing into children’s minds when they’re little, just as you do with basic arithmetic, it’s there forever; it becomes second nature. Where does that simple process fall down, with current teaching methods?

  2. This is so depressing that it’s almost (but not quite) funny.

    Sadly, many teachers—at least in the States—have deficient language skills themselves. A former colleague used to say that at the newspaper where he once worked, the worst letters to the editor came from teachers.

    I’ve had plenty of excellent teachers in my life . . . and plenty who weren’t so hot.

    • What depresses me most, Mary, is that to teach kids the basics of good spelling and grammar is not rocket science – and once all that is implanted in those fertile little brains, then they’re free to be as creative as they want and, Heaven forbid, even break some rules. As we all know it’s OK to break the rules in writing at times but to do it effectively you need to know what those rules are in the first place. I just hope the basics (not the be-all-and-end-all) of grammar and spelling come back into fashion one of these days …