CLIE Open Session 20th June 2001



Knowledge About Language


Initial Teacher Education Courses


The session opened with Alison Sealey (University of Reading) posing questions about the purpose of teaching this topic to ITT students. Henrietta Dombey (School of Education, University of Brighton) then gave an account of what is taught in her department, what is considered by the teaching team to be the value of such teaching and how the students' learning is assessed. The two presentations were followed by discussion.


[Alison Sealey's presentation is summarised here in her own words.]

Alison Sealey is currently a senior lecturer in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at the University of Reading, but she referred to her experience as a lecturer in English Studies in the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick. She pointed out that in central policy documents ‘training’ and ‘trainees’ have replaced ‘education’ and ‘students’, and that different ‘providers’ have interpreted the requirements in different ways. For example, the ‘12 hours’ mentioned in the title of this session are not mandatory in any of the policy texts, and she had experienced a diminishing of the contact time used at Warwick to teach intending teachers about language.

Alison suggested that the context of this teacher training inevitably included the symbolic importance of the national language as a school curriculum subject, where all of the following were seen as being at stake: identity (personal and national), however defined; the socialisation of a younger generation; ‘standards’ (like ‘identity’, a word capable of several interpretations); definition and prioritisation of both language and linguistic concepts, and practices and values in pedagogy.

She reminded the audience of the succession of policy initiatives which had preceded this teacher training curriculum, including the report of the Kingman Committee in 1988, in which Professor Henry Widdowson voiced a note of reservation. He was concerned that insufficient attention had been paid to any rationale specifying ‘what English is on the curriculum for’, and he felt that there would be difficulties in identifying objectives for teaching pupils about the English language until these purposes had been clearly identified, and the link between these and curriculum objectives made explicit. Alison suggested that this issue remained unresolved.

She cited some specific examples of statements in materials aimed at supporting teachers to teach ‘grammar for writing’, and suggested that a lot of this nominally ‘grammatical’ knowledge was actually knowledge about the requisite features of standard, formal, written English, pointing out the absence of any reference to pragmatics in any of these policies.

She concluded with the observation that lecturers charged with delivering KAL to ‘trainees’, in 12 hours or many more, are faced with an extremely difficult task.


Henrietta Dombey is Professor of Literacy at the School of Education at the University of Brighton. She is the head of a team responsible for the part of a module called 'Core Subject Knowledge English Component'. The team has published two booklets at the department to facilitate students' progress through the course and assessment. Both booklets are designed for self-study.

Henrietta noted that it's essential to extend students' knowledge of language so that, as teachers, they can:

At Brighton, the objective is to enable students to meet the demands while also complying with the syllabus laid down by the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) on knowledge about language. A programme intended to meet these requirements is supported by in-house teaching materials, prepared by staff with more expertise in language in education than in linguistics. These consist of one booklet called Word classes: self-study pack (16pp., March 2001) and another called Core subject knowledge - English (34pp., January 2001).

The table of contents of the second of the booklets reflects the course outline:

Part A Text Structure (text level)

Part B Syntax (sentence level)

1 What is a sentence?

2 Simple and compound sentences

3 Clause structure: Subject, Verb and Object

4 Clause structure: Complement and Adverbial

5 Complex Sentences including relative clauses and other

types of subordinate clauses

6 Further clause elements: Vocative, Indirect Object and

Object Complement

7 More about Verbs

8 Revision

Part C Morphology (word level)

The following additional reading for the course is essential:

Crystal, D. (1996). Discover grammar. Longman. (Main reference.)

Wray, D. & J. Medwell (1997). English for primary teachers. Letts. (Additional reference for text structure.)

Gee, R. & Watson, C. (1983). Better English. Usborne. (For those weak in spelling and punctuation.)

Students training to be primary school teachers have 12 contact hours (6 x 2hrs) for their course; PGCE students do the work entirely in their own time.

Henrietta highlighted some of the features of the booklet:

The department has developed assessment forms, separate for primary and PGCE students, and an audit procedure. The latter enables students to review the state of their knowledge and set action plans for improvement.

Henrietta's presentation was supported by twenty two copies of the booklets and samples of self assessment forms.


The following points were made in the discussion which followed the presentation: