In March this year the government released its new “framework” for testing the spelling, punctuation and grammar of 8-11 year olds.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has implemented a series of back-to-basics reforms which involve testing 11-year-old children on their ability “to use punctuation marks correctly in their writing, including full stops, question and exclamation marks, commas, inverted commas, and apostrophes to mark possession and omission.” (Framework Document, p. 9).
Keen followers of the Broxtowe political scene will already be fearful of our local MP’s prospects under this new back-to-basics regime. Indeed, assessing Anna Soubry MP’s regular email newsletters against Michael Gove’s criteria is a time-consuming task. Why? The sheer volume of punctuation errors made by Soubry is quite extraordinary. She routinely pluralises “MP” with an apostrophe, appears to have no knowledge of compound adjectives, has a bizarre understanding of quote marks, and often splits single words in two (“stereo typing”, “grand parents”), often with amusing consequences.
A careful reading of Soubry’s output suggests that her punctuation almost never meets the standards that her government expects of 11-year-old children. According to Gove’s Draft National Curriculum, children of this age are required to successfully use “the semi-colon, colon and dash to mark the boundary between independent clauses” and to understand “how hyphens can be used to avoid ambiguity (e.g. man eating shark versus man-eating shark, or recover versus re-cover)”. Indeed, many of Soubry’s newsletters fail even to meet the standards demanded of 9-year-olds, who are expected to successfully use “apostrophes to mark singular and plural possession”.
The incredible frequency of Soubry’s errors suggests that the problem is one of incompetence rather than sloppiness. And apparently the office staff who check her writing do not have adequate literacy skills either. It is remarkable that, from the £89,684.10 that our MP spent on staff in 2010-11, Soubry was unable to find a single employee with the punctuation proficiency of an 11-year-old.
It may be that readers simply do not believe my claims. To convince yourselves, please stroll over to the “Anna Soubry’s Punctuation” site (http://annasoubryspunctuation.tumblr.com), which has, since Easter, been publishing one new Soubry error per day. So far enough have been found to keep up this publication frequency until the end of the year at least.
Fortunately, thanks to Michael Gove’s reforms, Soubry will soon be able to brush up on her literacy skills at any local primary school. I wish her well in her endeavours.