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Autor: Antonie Kelly (Ústav obecné lingvistiky/UWE Bristol)

Esej napsána v rámci předmětu Cultural History of the English Language  na University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol.


The essay gives a historical overview of the issue of implementing English language and English literature in the United Kingdom education system over the 20th century up to the present day. Formerly, English literature had a firm position in the syllabus and English language was virtually non-pre

sent. Gradually, both of them were ranked equally in the syllabus; however, there were periods when one of them was favoured and more popular over the other for various reasons.



The course of English language in the British education has experienced dramatic changes over the period from 1900 up to the present day. The British government commissioned several committees at different times to evaluate the importance of English language in the education system and how it should be presented and taught to pupils.

In this essay, I will firstly analyse the consecutive government reports with regards to the English language and this will be done in chronological order. Secondly, I will evaluate the course of past events with respect to my own opinion. Finally, I will draw conclusions.

Analysis of the reports and the historical developments


Newbolt Report (1921)

The Newbolt Report was commissioned after the World War I in 1919 and it can be considered as the first attempt in the British history to officially reflect on English in the education and its place in terms of both language and literature. Also as it is pointed out, “ in this country we have no general or national scheme of education” (1921:5). The Report st

ressed the importance of English having a role in the education (1921:19-21). As Pugh (1996:180) explains, English was to promote a “national unity” and support “reducing the class-based distinctions”; these were radical statements at that time. The headmasters and headmistress expressed a desire to introduce more of English teaching into the syllabuses but they claimed that other subjects would have to be neglected, as there is not enough time to cover both (1921:53-4).

Following the previous practice, the major focus was on literature. However, the Newbolt Report recommended that more of English literature should be studied rather than the Classics, that is Greek and Latin (1921:12-13). Again, here we can see a sense of national unity. The committee evaluated “the knowledge of English” and English literature as the fundamental basis of education in general (1921:14) and claimed that the real power of literature is still to be revealed as teachers and educationalists must find its true value and promote it (1921:340). In terms of what should be taught at elementary schools, the committee stated that “the lesson should be called ‘Literature’ rather than ‘Reading’”; and in preparatory schools pupils should be familiar with English literature before foreign and classical literatures (1921:349). In secondary schools English literature should have a place in the timetable and not to be neglected. Pupils should also be “familiar with a body of fine poetry” (1921:350). However, the teacher’s role is relatively free in terms what s/he wishes to choose as the literature canon (1921:358).

The committee wanted to re-introduce grammar to schools again because, as they claimed, teachers disliked the Latinised grammar; and therefore, abandoned it altogether. As Hudson and Walmsley (2005:601) state,

The Newbolt Report struggled with many types of grammar: “grammar of English, traditional Latinate grammar, the grammar of form and the grammar of function, historical grammar”, and finally selected the “pure grammar” (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:601). As the committee explains, this grammar contains “the fundamental laws which govern the expression of … thought” and it is “a grammar of function not of form” (1921:291). Hudson and Walmsley (2005:601) highlight that the latter is the main change of that time in terms of grammar-teaching. It was to be taught in close relation with phonetics and “the terminology employed should be that common to the grammars of all languages” (1921:291). Therefore, it could be re-used in foreign language teaching as well. However, “formal grammar and philology should be recognised as scientific studies, and kept apart (so far as that is possible) from the lessons in which English is treated as an art, a means of creative expression, a record of human experience.” (1921:11).

English was to play an important role in the university examinations as well and the committee recommended that both English language and literature were to be raised to an equal status with other academic areas (1921:354-5).

Despite the Newbolt Report recommendations, in the following decades the decline of grammar was quite dramatic as the teaching of English literature became more and more popular and “there was felt to be no room for language study in an ‘English’ curriculum for schools” (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:602). For a long period after the Newbolt Report there were no more reports commissioned and “much of the older material continued to be recycled until well after the war” (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:597), which only corresponds with the fact that the next report focusing solely on English in the schools was not published until 1975.

The 1950-60s – death and slow revival of grammar-teaching

After World War II grammar-teaching was in decline as teachers were unsure what was the purpose of grammar and how it should be taught (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:598-602; Crystal, 2006:199-201). There was very little academic research done in the area of grammar; therefore, it could not be proven that grammar is of any use or value in education. This enabled the English literature to become more popular by default; it also became a university course. There were a few university courses in philology but these were in minority compared with English literature. On the other hand, no courses in English language were available and this stemmed from the lack of English language teaching at schools as well. Crystal (2006:203-5) considers the year 1965 to be the ultimate death of grammar-teaching in England. However, as Halliday was working on the Schools Council project in years 1964-1971, it showed that “language awareness” was useful (Crystal, 2009:170-1). Pupils were encouraged to discuss “language in use”; however, they did not possess any terminology to describe their ideas. Therefore, it became obvious that grammatical terms were needed. However, as we will see below, the Plowden Report consciously supports the lack of grammar terminology. On the other hand, Hudson and Walsmley (2005:606) claim that universities started to be interested in grammar research once again in the 1960s. It is admitted though that schools accepted this change in a slower pace.

Plowden Report (1967)

This report is not concerned with English in the education system per se; however, it makes a few points in this area. Firstly, it highlights the importance of language as the main means of communication. Secondly, it stresses the importance of “teaching English to immigrants” and states that this work should be expanded. Finally, in the section that is concerned with English as a school subject, it is admitted that English language and literature have been somewhat neglected until the modern times (1967:209). However, “the past is still with us in the trend in some schools to emphasise the techniques of reading and writing at the expense of speech and in the survival of a theory of grammar that derives from the inflected language of Latin.” (1967:210). Here we can see that the change that was to be introduced by the Newbolt Report in 1921 still has not happened. With respect to creative writing, it is stated that things have changed and children are now encouraged to compose their own texts already as they learn to read (1967:218-9; Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:609). As far as teaching of grammar is concerned, the committee assigned it “little place in the primary school, since active and imaginative experience and use of the language should precede attempts to analyse grammatically how language behaves.” (1967:222). At a later stage in the schooling life “when ‘rules’ or generalisations are discussed these should be ‘induced’ from the child’s own knowledge of the usage of the language”. This shows the neglect of the metalanguage and rather a preference for natural description with vocabulary that the child already possesses.

Bullock Report (1975)

The Bullock Report is the second of the main four government reports concerning education. It was appointed in 1972 by Margaret Thatcher, at that time the Secretary of the State for Education. It also includes a survey of two thousand schools in England.

The Bullock Report is concerned not only with literature but also with reading as part of literacy skills. Therefore, “reading must not be thought of as an uncomplicated skill” (1975:26) so that all pupils can read effectively as they reach adulthood and reading would become their life-skill (1975:118). There is also an emphasis on the close link between reading and writing in the early years (1975:103). Moreover, writing should stem from a context and from pupils’ own experiences (1975:527).  Following from there, the committee admits that that “literature [is] to many teachers is the most rewarding form of the child’s encounter with language” and it should be used and taught at all levels (1975:525). However, it is argued whether literature does in fact make the reader a better person (1975:125). It is also commented on the “tradition of literature teaching … which aims at personal and moral growth” and that in the last twenty years this has been emphasised. Pugh states that the era of strong emphasis on literature is now over and “the process of language has overtaken the content of literature, except of course for those specifically studying English literature” (1996:184).

The Report came after Halliday’s project which stated that “grammar is a resource, not a limitation” and that grammar should be taught in a descriptive rather than prescriptive way (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:610). The Bullock Report gave the same conclusions – grammar is useful but the way in which it is taught has to be different and modernised from the traditional approach that was abandoned by the 1960s. It is stated that the “traditional analytic grammar does not appear to improve performance in writing” (1975:171). However, there is a strong recommendation for teachers to “improve [their] pupil’s ability to handle language” (1975:169). Overall, the report demonstrates a growing interest in linguistics as part of the English language in schools and also in the A-level examinations (1975:174, 180). A framework called Language across the curriculum was suggested (1975:188) which recommended that every secondary school should adopt a policy and implement the language across the curriculum (1975:193, 513). Moreover, the Report suggests creating “a national centre for language in education” that would be concerned “with the teaching of English in all its aspects” (1975:515).

As Brindley (1996:200) summarises it, “the Bullock Report, published in the 1970s, had supported language and literature in equal measures”. Therefore, we can see a shift from the previous syllabuses where literature was given a major role. Both teachers and their pupils are becoming more interested in linguistic aspects of English; and these are to be introduced to them in modernised ways different from the traditional approach.

Rampton (1981) and Swann (1985) Reports

These two reports are closely interwoven. Firstly, the Rampton Report, called West Indian Children in our Schools, was received negatively even before it was published. Its conclusions were: “low teacher expectations and racial prejudice among white teachers and society as a whole” (Gillard, 2012). Therefore, a new committee was appointed and the Swann Report, called Education for all, was published four years later. As it was concerned with children from ethnic minority groups in the UK, naturally, one of its main interests was English as a second language. While admitting the multicultural and multilingual society, it emphasised the role of English as “a central unifying factor in ‘being British’” (1985:385). The Swann Report reiterated the Bullock Report’s conclusions that teachers are responsible for the pupils’ linguistic development (1985:413-6) through the Language across the curriculum framework, as it would be particularly beneficial to children of ethnic minorities. The committee also recommended that a ‘language coordinator’ should be present in every primary and secondary school (1985:418).

Kingman Report (1988)

The Kingman Report was to give recommendations for the National curriculum. It is stated that English is “one of the core subjects” (1988:3) which is a major development and achievement compared with the beginning of the century. However, the committee themselves did not make any specific recommendations and stated that this was to be done by the “The Secretary of State’s working group on English”. Therefore, the whole discussion about literature and grammar is omitted with the only exception that the old-fashioned grammar-teaching based on Latin should be abandoned; however, this claim had already been made before in the 1960s; and therefore, it was likely to be already applied. Instead, “accurate use of the rules and conventions” should be taught to improve pupils’ language ability (1988:3, Brindley, 1996:200). As Brindley quotes Cox (1991:4), the Conservatives did not like this approach as they hoped for the return of the Latin-based grammar-teaching. Rather than theorising on the use of language and other linguistic aspects, the Report gave specific recommendations on language teaching in the classroom (Brindley, 1996:200-1). Consequently, the LINC (Language in the national curriculum) materials were produced; however, they were never published as the government saw them as unsuitable because LINC was based on theories that “language is dynamic” and that it “changes over time” (1992:1).

However, it can be seen from the summary points (1988:70) how much English has risen in prestige and status over the years and now it is to be awarded a top priority in the education.


Cox Report (1989)

 This report, called English for ages 5-16, followed shortly after the Kingman Report; however, unlike the Kingman Report, the Cox Report analysed all aspects of English teaching in great detail (1989:para.1.19). This is also evident in the Report’s summary of proposals which gives specific guidance on how many attainment targets should be achieved at the certain key stages. The committee states that the Cox Report contains material from Kingman; however, it is “revised and extended” (1989:para.1.3). Importantly, the committee agrees with the assumptions and conclusions of the Kingman Report (1989:para.1.18) and this is reflected in their recommendations. The committee concludes that “English contributes to personal development”. Furthermore, it also “contributes to preparation for the adult world” (1989:para.2.14).

The Report gives language and literature the same value; however, language is discussed in three chapters while literature only in one. This is because “linguistic terminology” and language in general need more explanation because they are less familiar to teachers than literature (1989:para.4.1-2). The Report recommends that all pupils should be familiar with Standard English as it is used in a range of purposes and it also as an internationally recognised language (1989:para.4.14). However, Standard English “should not be introduced at too early a stage” as it may confuse younger pupils. Their mother tongue should be valued as well, no matter whether it is a dialect of English or even creole. The committee quotes the Kingman report and agrees that grammar-teaching in the old-fashioned way should be abandoned and new “more useful ways of teaching grammar” should be introduced to preserve the “analytic competence” (1989:para.4.25). For instance, it is stated that grammar should “describe language in use” (1989:para.4.28); therefore, it should be descriptive and not prescriptive (1989:para.4.18-9; Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:611). It is also highlighted that “terms are needed” but they are to be “introduced as they are needed” in the lesson content and context (1989:para.5.16). Finally, we can see the rise of English language as the A-level was introduced and the numbers of students taking it have been growing.

It is stated that “literature and language are inseparably intertwined” (1989:para.7.7). As pupils get to know literary language, it will enable to broaden their horizons and “understand a wide range of feelings and relationships” (1989:para.7.3).

The Cox Report gave foundations to English in the National curriculum (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:613). As Crystal states, its achievements are that English is studied from the point of view as it is “used in real life”; it fosters “language awareness” (2006:206); and it “develops a sense of linguistic appropriateness” (2006:211).

Some teachers may still find difficult to implement grammar in their lessons; however, it is widely acknowledged nowadays “that grammar is useful” (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:617). Therefore, we can expect a trend of rising popularity of grammar as a useful tool; and at the same time, the literature will continue to be acknowledged as a rich source of language.


It is clear that English in the syllabus has undergone major changes. The first improvement, which also enabled all the subsequent developments, was to implement English in the core syllabus. In the 1920s there was no national educational framework and English had to fight for its place in the school timetables. Compared with the 1980s, we can see a significant improvement. English was implemented in the National curriculum which stabilised its status and it also became one of the key subjects. There is no doubt that the English language provides a linking thread of “national unity” as mentioned already in Newbolt Report and over 60 years later in Swann Report. The United Kingdom is a multicultural country and its citizens are of different ethnicity, culture, religion and language. Therefore, it is only natural that there is a desire for a mutual bond; and English can easily grant that.

However, as it could be deduced from the reports above, it has not been easy to decide what specifically should be taught in schools and how. In my opinion, I strongly agree with the Cox Report that metalanguage is important in order to enable pupils to express their ideas clearly. I also believe that Crystal’s (2009:169) point that linguistics has plenty to offer is correct, as it can provide pupils with a greater range of imagination, e.g. what is the capacity of a language and how it can be powerfully used.

Nevertheless, it should never be forgotten that the reality which is on-going in the classrooms can be slightly different from what is desired officially as expressed in the reports (Hudson and Walmsley, 2005:616). Therefore, I believe that constant teachers education is needed to acquaint them with current educational trends and research findings so that teachers are able to implement these in their lessons.



The place of English literature in the syllabus has never been doubted. However, the English language fought its position in the syllabus. After forsaking the old methods based on Latin, a new approach was designed to compensate for the modern needs. If pupils are to talk about language in use, they must handle certain grammatical terminology that will enable them to analyse the language phenomenon, and therefore to express their ideas freely and precisely.

Reference list


Board of Education (1921) The teaching of English in England. (Newbolt Report). [online] London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/newbolt/index.html [Accessed 17 April 2013].

Department of Education and Sciences (1967) Children and their primary schools: A report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England). (Plowden Report). [online] London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/plowden/index.html [Accessed 17 April 2013].

Department of Education and Sciences (1975) A language for life: Report of the Committee of Enquiry appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. (Bullock Report). [online] London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/bullock/index.html [Accessed 17 April 2013].

Department of Education and Sciences (1981) West Indian children in our schools: Interim report of the committee of Inquiry into the education of children from ethnic minority groups. (Rampton Report). [online] London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/rampton/index.html [Accessed 2 May 2013].

Department of Education and Sciences (1985) Education for all: Report of the

committee of enquiry into the education of children from ethnic minority groups.

(Swann Report).[online] London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/swann/index.html [Accessed 2 May 2013].

Department of Education and Sciences (1988) Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of English Language. (Kingman Report). [online] London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/kingman/index.html [Accessed 2 May 2013].

Department of Education and Sciences (1989) English for ages 5 to 16. (Cox Report). [online] London: HMSO. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/cox1989/index.html [Accessed 2 May 2013].

Other sources

Brindley, S. (1996) The development of a ‘national curriculum’ for English in England and Wales. In: Mercer, N. and Swann, J., eds. (1996) Learning English: Development and diversity. London: Routledge, pp. 198-204.

Crystal, D. (2006) The fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crystal, D. (2009) Just a phrase I’m going through: My life in language. London: Routledge.

Department of Education and Science (1992) Language in the National Curriculum: Materials for professional development. Unpublished.

Gillard, D., Education in England (2012) The Rampton Report: Notes on the text. Available from: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/rampton/ [Accessed 1 May 2013].

Hudson, R. and Walmsley, J. (2005) The English Patient: English grammar and teaching in the twentieth century. Journal of Linguistics. [online] 41 (3), pp. 593-622. [Accessed 16 April 2013].

Pugh, A. K. (1996) A history of English teaching. In: Mercer, N. and Swann, J., eds. (1996) Learning English: Development and diversity. London: Routledge, pp.159-187.