An exploration of non-specialist teachers’ subject knowledge of English grammar and its relationship with changes in policy and expectation of teachers at KS4.

  • Olwen Wright

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this research was to discover the relationship that secondary teachers have with grammar. A policy shift between 2010 and 2015 upgraded the place of grammar teaching and assessing at Key Stage 4 and teachers of GCSEs in humanities subjects are now responsible for preparing pupils for marks in spelling, punctuation and grammar and in some cases, also assessing these marks.
The Literature Review charts the history of grammar teaching in secondary schools and the assessing of grammar at key stage 4. It presents evidence that demonstrates the lack of clarity and consensus between policy makers and educationalists in respect of how and whether grammar should be taught in schools. The Literature Review also considers how the implementation of the current marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG) is based upon assumptions about teachers’ knowledge and it explores the contentious nature of assessing SPaG as an adjunct to a humanities examination.
Qualitative research methodology was used to explore the thoughts and feelings about grammar that were held by the seven humanities teachers who participated in this research. This thesis presents their schooling experiences and reflections upon their teaching practice. They were asked to describe their own educational journeys and their current classroom approaches towards the SPaG marks. The data from the case studies were generated using semi-structured interviews and each of the teachers was interviewed twice over the course of a year, between 2014 and 2015. The participants taught in a range of settings.
Constructivist Grounded Theory was employed as the research paradigm and this generated the themes and codes. Jefferson transcription notation was added to the transcripts so that the participants’ voices were brought as close to the reader as possible. The work of Derrida was applied to the analysed data in order to uncover additional meanings and lay bare assumptions.
The findings show that the relationships teachers have with grammar are complex, both on a personal and professional level. The study highlights the dilemmas that the SPaG marks create for teachers and it exposes the challenges posed by grammar in the wider context of teachers’ professional lives. It also challenges some of the assumptions that are made by policy makers about teachers’ knowledge and it presents for consideration the notion that teachers’ self-awareness and self-knowledge, in relation to grammar, are not necessarily accurate. Implications for both policy and practice are discussed in light of the findings and the importance of listening to teachers’ voices is one of the central recommendations.

Date of Award6 Apr 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorBridget Egan (Supervisor), Naomi Flynn (Supervisor) & Janice De Sousa (Supervisor)


  • grammar
  • secondary
  • humanities
  • non-specialists
  • GCSEs

Cite this