Q3: Analyse how the writer uses language and structure to interest and engage the reader. (15)

In this text, an examination board is stating a task for candidates to complete. The question begins with an attempt to engage the reader directly with an imperative (“Analyse”), which leaves no doubt as to the action required.

Two pairs of components then offer further detail of the task to the reader. First, the reader is informed that they must discuss how the writer uses “language and structure”. The conjunction “and” in this noun phrase is perhaps intended as a signal to the reader that they must address both linguistic, and structural, features of the text in their response. There is an implicit point made here that failure to mention one or the other may be important, but why this might be is not made clear.

Furthermore, the terms used are themselves quite vague, which may also impact the engagement of the reader. It could be argued that the terms offer open-ended scope for reader interpretation, which is potentially engaging. However, students unfamiliar with the exam format may not be entirely sure what aspects of language or structure they are supposed to discuss, unless explicitly coached on what they will have to discuss in the exam.

Given the wide parameters suggested by the vague terms of “language” and “structure”, different readers may respond more generally, for example, commenting on the use of English and the question format, rather than specific technical details of the content.

Following this, the writer has provided another pairing, this time in a verb phrase (“to interest and engage”). This offers a range of actions to complete. The conjunction here could also be important, although the use of near-synonymous words may lead to some confusion, hence causing disengagement. It is possible that a reader may interpret this phrase to mean they should not address ideas that fail to be both interesting and engaging, and in not doing so lose further marks.

The question closes with a reference to “the reader”, which in this text clearly refers to an examination candidate. Although the word “engage” can mean “occupy”, which the simple of act of reading the question achieves, the idea of a “reader” being interested by the bland terminology is not particularly convincing.

In addition, there is an implication from the wording employed that the student is expected to know how to respond to a question phrased in such a generalised way in the exam. This suggests that such knowledge is presupposed by the exam board (“the writer”), with a logical inference from that perhaps being that teachers are expected to make this mechanical awareness the point of their lessons, rather than, say, making words and reading fun activities.

The number “15” appearing at the close of the text, isolated in parentheses for emphasis, may be a mocking final note reflecting the idea that the only truly important outcome of any interest to the reader is how many marks they need to get.

Education news in the UK today is mostly about leaked SPaG SATs for primary school children. Test materials released controversially in advance of the controversial tests.

The leak has been blamed on a ‘rogue marker’, which is hilarious imagery. I can’t stop singing this to the tune of the old Transformers cartoon theme song. Rogue marker! (Teacher in disguise).

It has been suggested that the ‘rogue marker’ (teacher in disguise) may be working as part of an orchestrated campaign of sabotage against the unnecessary hoop jumping exercise reforms. Sabotage! I work on an ideological battleground. I love the smell of military metaphor in the morning. Well done, Rogue 3, tally ho, decent effort.

I teach secondary rather than primary, and the primacy of the test is perhaps even greater. So much assessment, so little time to learn anything between tests. Add in MIDYIS, ALIS and other data and it seems clear that education currently is dominated by people whose idea of a good time is spreadsheet wrangling.

Rather think I’m with writer, educationalist and good egg Michael Rosen on this:

Tuesday, 10 May 2016
The 8-point purpose of SPaG

1.Say summative testing necessary.
2.Reduce language to right/wrong.
3.Teachers have to teach it.
4.Children have to learn/don’t learn it.
5 Test them with dodgy tests
6. Call it ‘standards’.
7. Teachers measured on basis of how well children did in the dodgy tests.
8. If not high enough, convert school to academy.

Meanwhile, this is how I feel as an education professional today, again:


Hey! Teacher!