Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England

Obviously, I really want to write about the poor barrister who fell asleep this week, but she will have to wait as it has been SATs week in our house, and I need to talk about that first.


SATs are really hard these days. I’m not in favour of primary school children getting stressed about exams, cramming, or even feeling a duty to do well. They should be spending all of their time out of school, in my opinion, playing, resting and eating crisps. But, overall, I think SATs are really good. I would actually like some of my colleagues to retake Year 6 and learn the things Deceptively Angelic Looking Child 1 (DALC1) knows that, apparently, they don’t. Like how to use a comma and a semi-colon. Not that this is, in any way, a common theme in my articles.

The thing is that I have spent probably three hours this week correcting spelling and grammar in documents drafted by junior members of my department. I have punchily put this all down as chargeable time because no one will ever know that I was correcting the SPAG rather than working on the content. But why do I have to do this? How can it be the case that all the 11-year-olds in the country know this stuff and barely any 23-year-olds do?

Grammatically stressed

Most of what we hear about SATs in the press is about ‘fronted adverbials’, the ‘present progressive’, ‘relative clauses’ and ‘subordinating conjunctions’, which are all things I’m sure I didn’t learn about, even at GCSE level. I can tell you I’ve done a lot of Googling in the lead-up to these SATs. But, if we actually look at the majority of the questions on the spelling and grammar papers, they are designed to set these kids up for any kind of future where they have to speak and write articulately.

Moreover, on the reading paper, the marking scheme could actually be a list of skills required by a lawyer. It includes:

  • Give or explain the meaning of words in context.
  • Retrieve and record information or identify key details.
  • Summarise main ideas from more than one paragraph [of the text].
  • Make inferences from the text or explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text.
  • Predict what might happen from details stated and implied.
  • Identify and/or explain how information or narrative content is related and contributes to meaning as a whole.
  • Identify and/or explain how meaning is enhanced through the choice of words and phrases. Make comparisons within the text.

How many hundreds of times have you or I had to sit in a room with a client and, very quickly, look at some papers and do all of the above? Or draft a letter or document using most of these skills? I can’t think of an area of law that all of this doesn’t apply to.

Then there is maths. I loved maths at school. I would have taken maths at university if there hadn’t been a high risk of becoming undateable as a result. I have to say, I have forgotten as much maths as my young colleagues have lost their ability to read/write/put a comma in the right place.

More maths please

Again, though, these are the foundations for life, whatever job you go on to do. If you are measuring a window for curtains you will need to know how to measure, how much to multiply the width by to get some nice gathering, how the weight of the curtains will affect the length of screws needed in your curtain pole brackets, how many hooks you need for one curtain, based on its size, how to multiply that by two, and so on. If you want to be a builder, or a carpenter, or a nurse you will need to know Year 6 maths. You will, however, need that degree in maths if you ever work part-time and have your annual leave calculated in hours rather than days.

I know I am sounding older by the day, but in my opinion it all (apart from the maths/annual leave) comes down to reading. If you (or your kid) reads enough and maintains a positive relationship with the idea of reading, then the spelling, grammar, ability to make inferences, and all the rest of it will take care of itself. It doesn’t matter what they are reading – and don’t forget you are very likely to think what your kids are reading is trash, just like my mum did when I binged on Sweet Valley High – for now, it is the fact that they are reading and enjoying it that is important.


Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article