As communication of information in the workplace becomes ever shorter and concise, the importance given to basic writing skills in the curriculum grows.
The changes made to the English GCSE now see marks allocated to the area of spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) in a way that has caused a divisive response; Boards such as AQA will allocate marks to this area that will achieve a total weighting of 5% of the total marks for the qualification.
Though the change is small in the grander scheme, it emphasises the growing desire to reward basic writing skills, which grow in value in a work environment that is becoming harsher and more competitive. However, it also emphasises the break from a previous lean towards rewarding ideas and thought at the expense of form.
Critics of this change have raised the issue of who will be favoured by it, some seeing it as automatic, additional reward to those fortunate enough to have a private education. As someone who benefited from financial support throughout my education, via scholarships and grants, the importance of the written word has been paramount to my own development. Worryingly, having worked in fundraising and development for music-education non profits, I have encountered huge disparity in the use of the written and spoken word that does manifest in divisions of wealth, something that makes me agree with these critics.
I believe more should be done to reinforce these skills throughout a student’s school career. Often the study of basic linguistics, once students reach GCSE, is shied away from by teachers, usually only presenting itself in the form of red marks on essays, a few additional commas thrown in to break up a complex thought that should in fact be applauded, and, indeed, one that is not always in need of the extra punctuation.
However, though my use of such a sentence as that above, and indeed a comma before the word itself, is consciously glib, a key grasp of punctuation in the context of the thought processes they denote is vital. It is through this that one can develop skills of rhetoric and cohesion in one’s writing, while presenting information clearly and concisely, in a way that gets those crucial ticks from an examiner.
Those marking papers have an unenviable task. Writing essays under the pressures of time and nerves is difficult, extremely so; Reading and marking them, therefore, no easy process. In the pressures of an exam it is easy to let one’s SPAG skills slide; When one is rushed but intent on communicating a thought, the manner in which it is communicated may not be as beautified as one would like. Arguably, if a student has demonstrated a prolonged use of top notch SPAG at any point in an examination, it should perhaps be taken by the examiner as an indicator of his or her level of skill in this area, and therefore merit a full allocation of these marks, even if the standard slips somewhat towards the end of a paper.
Examinations challenge students to write in a manner that very few adults are ever required to in their day to day. Emails in the workplace are often sent through in short, one or two line messages, often without punctuation, and almost always with a lack of care in spelling. Basic writing skills should be reinforced without embarrassment by teachers, at all age groups, and should not be shied away from. By doing so teachers ensure that these skills become automatic, and so encourage punctuated articulation.
As a tutor it is important to bear these skills in mind when teaching. One must make sure students understand the processes and thoughts behind SPAG, it is this that provides them with a grasp on writing skills that have a long term benefit, and provide immediate reward in examinations; Five percent may be a small quantity but it can make a huge difference.