(*Knowledge About Language = linguistics)


The background to this project is a handful of recent developments:

  • our long-running attempt to sell an A-level in Linguistics to exam boards, where we feel we’re going round in circles: the exam boards want evidence of demand, which we can’t produce because schools have no time for new initiatives that don’t show in their league tables.
  • the DfE’s  increased insistence on KAL (Knowledge About Language) in the NC (National Curriculum), where KAL is linguistics (scaled down to an appropriate level) – hence the ‘KALling’ in the title (‘KAL is a little linguistics’).
  • the DfE’s new compulsory SPaG test at KS1 and 2, which assesses one small part of that KAL; but crucially there’s no such test in secondary education, so a pupil who’s learned a lot of KAL has no way to benefit from this knowledge.


The idea behind KALling is to put these three things together: we produce a KAL test which schools can opt into. More precisely, and adding a time-line:

  • In 2016, we offer an audit tool for schools to use in assessing what KAL pupils have already (e.g. to find how much grammar Year 7 pupils have brought with them from primary).
  • In 2017, we introduce an annual Certificate examination for KS3, in which pupils show how much KAL they know, and get some kind of certificate.
  • In 2018, we introduce an annual Diploma examination for KS5, like the Certificate but harder.


The attractions for schools are:

  • that this won’t need any extra teaching at all, because the tests will cover what’s already in the NC
  • it may give the school some extra credit with parents or Ofsted
  • it supports schools that want to give more systematic attention to KAL
  • it provides a common goal for the English and Foreign Languages (FL) teachers, who may not be aware of each other’s activities, or expertise, in this area.

And for linguistics, of course, it would give more prominence to linguistics as well as possibly giving us evidence of a market in our A-level project.

What is KAL?

KAL is knowledge about language, i.e. explicit knowledge in contrast with the implicit knowledge of language that pupils have naturally and that they develop in school (especially, but not only, in English and FL). The NC defines two areas of KAL:

  • grammar‘: grammar, vocabulary and punctuation
  • phonics‘: phonological awareness and spelling.

Some notes:

  • These two areas overlap in morphology, which is part of grammar but very important for spelling.
  • Grammar is interpreted here very broadly, so it includes variation and text-level patterning.
  • Phonics in the NC is generally neutral to the distinction between analytic and  synthetic phonics, both of which involve the same KAL.
  • Most of the detail in the NC focuses on English teaching, but KAL is also recognised as important in FL teaching.

Taken together, grammar and phonics in English and FL occupy a surprising 22 pages of the total NC documents:

  1. the main NC document published in 2013
  2. the supplement for KS4 English published in 2014
  3. all the references in #1 and #2 to KAL.

Who are ‘we’?

We are a working group created by CLiE, consisting of seven teachers from schools or colleges, plus six academics from linguistics.

We have an email list: kalling@jiscmail.ac.uk. If you would like to join, please tell Dick Hudson.


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