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SPAG, GAPS, GASP – a whole school literacy approach for primary and secondary schools

I will need to be very wary while writing this post as any failing in spelling, punctuation or grammar will be seized upon by readers and used as evidence against me. My normal, bad-tempered response to such nit-pickery, “I didn’t do a degree in spelling” contradicts much of what I might say about literacy and, worse than that, it’s not funny. Can we just agree that, if there are howlers here, they are deliberate and have just been left in to tease and test you.

Enough blather.

SPAG booklets A year or two ago, due to the increased emphasis being placed on all things SPAG in government papers, Ofsted reports, Y6 testing and a range of GCSEs I began work on a SPAG booklet. My aim was to provide teachers and learners with a single, discrete resource that would provide key information on SPAG issues. The hope was that, by cutting out much that is unnecessary or over-complex, schools could use this as a common reference point for their teaching across a wide range of subjects.

After discussion with consultant colleagues and teachers, the topics to be covered were agreed and the explanations and examples were written. We chose not to follow any external set of ideas about what to include and to keep linguistic jargon to an absolute minimum. Our priority was to provide learners (and teachers) with only those concepts that would truly help them to become more effective communicators. As a result, we have ended up with what I hope is a pleasing little 16 pages booklet which has one page each on the following topics: Spelling Regular plurals High frequency words Common errors Homophones Subject-specific vocabulary Punctuation Capital letters and full stops Commas Apostrophes Punctuation of dialogue Sentence variety Grammar Tense agreement Possessive pronouns Connectives

A key feature of the booklets is that on each page there are three spaces where learners, who have demonstrated in their work across different subject areas, can get their subject teacher to endorse their achievements with their initials or a SPAG stamp. If schools encourage enthusiastic engagement with this feature of the booklets, I am sure learners will find the collection of these endorsements very engaging. What better way to demonstrate your school’s commitment to whole school literacy?

Clearly SPAG issues can be contentious. There may be things in the booklets that some may take exception to, perhaps preferring possessive adjectives to possessive pronouns. I hope that most such issues have been resolved but this is an area where there are always going to be different opinions and evolving ideas. The version now available is the second edition, my contention that the reference in the first to The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas was to a little known Dutch classic having been quashed. This example of how to capitalise a title now correctly names Boyne’s work! The designers have also done a great job with the booklet, weaving a spaghetti theme through the pages which pulls everything together.

Referred to regularly by teachers and used often by learners, I genuinely feel that these SPAG booklets will go a long way towards reinforcing the key aspects of SPAG which writers need to control in order to communicate effectively. Much less importantly, I think they will also provide schools with useful evidence to show to Ofsted. The SPAG booklets and self-inking SPAG stamps (not vital but they do help to make the project engaging) are available from the National Association for the Teaching of English through their online shop – all purchases helping to keep this vital organisation going. They cost just £12 for a set of 30 booklets. Any queries, please feel free to comment.


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