Student literacy: Minister 'appalled' by move on bad spelling

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Lecturers at the university were told to not penalise students who make spelling or grammar errors in exams, it has been reported

A minister has said she was "appalled" by a university's decision to ask staff not to dock marks for spelling errors.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said dropping the requirement was "dumbing down standards".

Earlier this week, it was reported that the University of Hull believed requiring good written and spoken English could be seen as "elite".

The university said it was committed to "removing barriers to learning" for students of all backgrounds.

As reported in the Hull Daily Mail, it said marking students down for poor spelling, grammar and punctuation in exams could be seen as "homogenous, North European, white, male, and elite".

Ms Donelan told the House of Commons on Thursday: "I am appalled by the decision of some universities to drop literacy standards in assessments.

"I think that this is misguided, and, in fact, it is dumbing down standards. That will never help disadvantaged students.

"Instead, the answer is to lift up standards and provide high quality education."

The university's decision was described as "patronising and counterproductive" by Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon.

He said it was a passion of his to ensure more people from "disadvantaged backgrounds" attended higher education establishments.

'Unexplained gap'

The independent regulator of higher education in England, the Office for Students, said it would not back policies that suggested standards should be reduced for some groups.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation, said there was "an unexplained gap in outcomes" for some groups of students, including students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He added: "Universities are looking at various ways of reducing these disparities but that should never result in a reduction in the academic rigour required for higher education courses."

In response to the criticism, a University of Hull spokesman said: "As a university, we are committed to removing barriers to learning, increasing social mobility and providing opportunities to students from all backgrounds.

"Inclusivity is one of our core values, and we firmly believe that everyone - regardless of their background - should have an opportunity to study and succeed."

It described itself as "a global institution" welcoming staff and students from more than 100 countries.

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