Toby Young wages war on teachers’ poor grammar in reports

Verdict on performance: must try harder.

It is teachers, rather than pupils, however, who are on the sharp end of a red ball-point pen this week.

The West London Free School multi-academy trust has hired proofreaders to eliminate spelling and grammar inaccuracies – along with unnecessary verbiage – from end-of-year school reports.

The trust’s eponymous secondary prides itself on the rigour of its traditional, grammar-school-style education. But Toby Young, its founder and chief executive of the trust, believes that each of the reports written by his teachers includes at least half a dozen mistakes.

“These mistakes are just typical of people in their twenties and thirties,” Mr Young told TES.

“Children are now taught grammar, punctuation and spelling, meaning that these kinds of errors are likely to decline in the next generation.”

The proofreaders were offered £20 an hour to read through the reports produced by schools in the trust: the original secondary, plus two nearby primaries. A single report takes between 10 and 15 minutes to read.

“I know from receiving my own children’s school reports that they often have niggling little errors in them,” Mr Young said. Typical mistakes include confusing “practise” (the verb) with “practice” (the noun), and omitting necessary punctuation, such as the comma after “exam” in the phrase “in this year’s exam, Johnny underperformed”.

Mr Young has also instructed his proofreaders to watch out for overcomplicated sentences. “They often use three verbs where one would do,” he said.

Mick Connell, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, agreed that it was important for reports to be accurate. But, he added: “Any teacher who’s ever put a notice on a noticeboard and had some clever wag circle it in red knows that it hurts. It seems to smack somewhere deep, into your education or intellect, as being incomplete or unsatisfactory.”

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