Havering head battles to improve language at school

‘They was’ or ‘they were’ - what do you say, and does it matter?

The former is part and parcel of our parlance - and is as Essex as stilettos and swagger - but it’s grammatically incorrect.

And it’s something one Havering head teacher wants to stamp out in his classrooms, in the name of ‘speaking proper’.

Matthew Slater, principal of Drapers’ Academy, in Settle Road, Harold Hill, has launched a crusade to improve the use of Standard English with pupils and staff.

He struck upon the idea after watching one candidate teacher in the classroom.

“She was doing a wonderful lesson,” said Mr Slater. “During the plenary she said to the pupils, ‘what was you hoping to learn in this lesson?’. Of course she should have said ‘what were you hoping to learn?’.”

The mistake has bred a new ‘culture of correction’ at the school, where staff are being encouraged to correct each other and students if mistakes are made.

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Mr Slater said: “My team pointed out that I use the word ‘gonna’ instead of going to. This is fine in conversation, however if I used this in written communication, it would clearly be wrong.”

A spokesman for the Plain English Campaign agreed that there are benefits to improving written and oral skills, but warned against disregarding colloquialisms.

She said: “If you are going to present yourself at a job interview, and you’re competing with other applicants, having good English will give you the edge.

“But you don’t want to right-off regional idiosyncrasies either.”

She added: “What people should remember is that things like text speak are a type of shorthand, and using them can often mean someone has a very good grasp of English.”

Mr Slater hopes the campaign will impact on literacy standards and improve exam results at the school.