Universities must not disregard poor spelling and grammar – OfS

Universities and colleges should consider students’ spelling, punctuation and grammar when marking exams and assessments, the Office for Students (OfS) argues in a report published today.

Students writing reports in class

The report – Assessment practices in English higher education providers: Spelling, punctuation and grammar – considers approaches to assessment at a small number of universities. Some of these universities have policies which mean that proficiency in written English is often not assessed.

In deciding their approach to assessment, the universities involved in the review often pointed to a desire to achieve or promote inclusivity. The report sets out the OfS’s view that students should be assessed on spelling, punctuation and grammar in order to maintain quality and protect standards.

Susan Lapworth, director of regulation at the Office for Students, said:

‘Students should be able to communicate their ideas effectively. This means their written work must be of a high standard, with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. It is not possible to analyse and explore complex theories and arguments without being able to write well, and universities should recognise this as they assess their students.

‘Some universities and colleges ask academics to ignore poor spelling, punctuation and grammar to make assessment more inclusive. The idea that they should expect less from certain groups of students is patronising. It threatens to undermine standards as well as public confidence in the value of a degree. It risks placing new graduates at a disadvantage in the labour market, and could leave employers spending time and money training graduates in basic written English. Universities and colleges can – and should – ensure that they are supporting students with additional needs, including making reasonable adjustments for disabled students, while also maintaining academic rigour.

‘The common features we have seen in assessment policies suggest that poor spelling, punctuation and grammar may be accepted across the sector. In publishing this report today, we are being clear with universities and colleges that we want to see change. Effective assessment should take into account all aspects of a student’s work, and this includes their ability to express themselves effectively and correctly in written English.

‘We recognise that making changes to assessment policies can take time, and we will revisit these issues in a year. From October 2022, we would expect to take action where we find assessment practices that lack rigour, including in the ways identified in the report.’

Michelle Donelan, Minister for Higher and Further Education, said:

'Rigour and standards matter at all stages of education, and the fundamentals of good spelling, punctuation and grammar are as important today as they ever were.

'The Government is determined to drive up standards at universities so that every student can benefit from a quality education which leads to good outcomes, and it is right that the Office for Students is putting universities which disregard poor written English on notice.'

Read the report


  1. The Office for Students is the independent regulator for higher education in England. Our aim is to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.

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