Generations of Indians have grown up studying Wren & Martin’s grammar but the text is largely unknown in Britain, where the subject wasn’t taught in schools until recently, and now it’s so difficult that even Prime Minister David Cameron looks confounded.
Thousands of parents took their children out of schools on Tuesday to protest against new examinations for Year 2 and Year 6 pupils. Questions on grammar are so difficult that Cameron and schools minister Nick Gibb could, at best, give vague answers.
On Wednesday, Cameron was asked by Green party MP Caroline Lucas in the House of Commons: “For the benefit of the House and for 10 and 11-year-olds up and down the country, will the Prime Minister explain what the past progressive tense is? Will he differentiate between a subordinating conjunctive and a coordinating conjunctive? Finally, will he set out his definition of a modal verb?”
Amid jeers, Cameron failed to answer but said: “The whole point of these changes is to make sure that our children are better educated than we are. That is why I am absolutely delighted that my three children at state schools are going off to do these tests.”
Speaking on BBC on Tuesday, Gibb too failed to answer a school grammar question. He was asked by the presenter to identify whether the word “after” was a preposition or a subordinating conjunction in the sentence “I went to the cinema after I’d eaten my dinner”.
According to Gibb, the word was used as a preposition, but the presenter corrected him, saying it was a subordinating conjunction.
Gibb managed to say, “This isn’t about me. This is about ensuring that future generations of children – unlike me incidentally, who was not taught grammar at primary school – we need to make sure that future generations are taught grammar properly.”
Campaign group Let Our Kids Be Kids is among those protesting against the new tests considered unnecessarily complex by teachers and parents.