[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/2 p22-24 later designated J15]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles, Pamflet 15 and Cut Spelling by Chris Upward.]

Revised Proposals for English in the National Curriculum
& the SSS Response.

Chris Upward.


In September 1992 the British Secretary of State for Education John Patten asked the National Curriculum Council (NCC) to conduct an urgent review of the National Curriculum Order for English. As part of the consultation procedure for that review, in October 1992 the SSS submitted some ideas for a long-term strategy for the development of English spelling, which were published in the JSSS J14 1993/1, pp3-9. The Department for Education published the outcome of the review in April 1993 in the form of Proposals for a revised English Order, and a new round of consultation was announced. The SSS then took the opportunity to make a further submission, relating specifically to the new Proposals' treatment of spelling. We here first reproduce the references made in the Proposals to spelling and related issues, and then publish the SSS's response, which was submitted to the NCC in July 1993.

What the NCC Proposals say about spelling.

Pupils' attainments in English at various stages in their education are now to be assessed under three Attainment Target (AT) headings: AT1 Speaking and Listening, AT2 Reading (including Literature), AT3 Writing (including Spelling, Grammar and Handwriting). The following abbreviations are also used: Statement of attainment = SoA, Programme of study = PoS, Key stage = KS.

Page and paragraph references are given below to the NCC Proposals, so that interested readers can relate the following excerpts to the full context if they wish.
The remit given to the National Curriculum Council by the Secretary of State for Education refers (piii) to "the need to ... (2d) define more clearly the basic writing skills ... which pupils needed to master and the variety of ways in which competence in spelling could be developed". In presenting the Proposals, the Chairman of the NCC states: " ... An important part of our approach is to identify phonics as an essential skill in initial reading rather than a teaching method." The Proposals then contain the following statements relevant to spelling:

p2. §5.1 We have endorsed the ... statement that the overriding aim of the English curriculum is "to enable all pupils to develop to the full their ability to use and understand English ... this means the fullest possible development of capabilities in ... reading and writing."

p2. §5.2 The writing attainment target more effectively signals the integration between spelling, handwriting and the broader definition of writing.

p3 §6.6 Council has sought: * to identify the essential knowledge and skills involved in learning to read and to define a balanced approach to initial reading which gives proper emphasis to the acquisition of phonic skills.

p4 §6.7 Teachers do not possess a 'conceptual map of reading development'. There is in particular no consensus about the phonic skills which pupils require ... Initial reading requires the acquisition of phonological awareness (conscious awareness of sounds and patterns of sounds in words as a preparation for phonic instruction) and phonic skills (a knowledge of the relationship between print symbols and sound patterns). The importance of pupils' acquisition of phonic skills in the very early stages is the reason why the Council has identified within Level 1 both the skills which need to be developed at the outset (eg the recognition of the initial sound when they hear a word) and those which follow on (eg the identification of initial and final sounds in words).

p4 §6.10 Council recognizes that reading schemes are a resource rather than a method of teaching.

p5 §6.18 The spelling strand terminates at level 6 ... Council recognizes the role of vocabulary enrichment in conveying meaning.

p5 §7.1 Manageability One of the foremost concerns in Council's recently published advice on The National Curriculum at Key Stages 1 and 2 is the fact that ' ... the breadth of National Curriculum requirements means that there is now insufficient time to teach the basics of reading, writing and spelling ...'

p6 Guidance §7.4 Teachers will require guidance to implement the new Order. This will be addressed in part through non-statutory guidance and also through separate guidance on specific issues. The priorities are the approach to standard English vocabulary and grammar, spelling and punctuation, all aspects of the teaching of initial reading ...

p7 Attainment Target 1: Speaking and Listening

p25 Attainment Target 2: Reading

p27 General introduction, §2. Pupils' progress in initial reading is characterized by: ... * developing knowledge and awareness of the alphabetic system and the sounds and structures of the spoken language.

p28 PoS KS 1 LEVEL 1. KS-related.

§1 Pupils learn to read when they are taught the necessary skills, of which phonics is an essential component.

§2 Pupils ... will need ... teaching specifically designed to raise their awareness of sounds and patterns of sound as a preparation for phonic work.

§4 Pupils ... should be taught the alphabet. ... The sources of information are: * phonic knowledge - of the relationship between sounds and letters; * graphic knowledge - the letter patterns in words. ... This means being taught: * word identification and recognition i) Phonics - knowledge of the relationship between print symbols and sound patterns. They should be made aware of the sounds of spoken language, and taught how symbols correspond to those sounds. Activities should include: * identifying and using a comprehensive range of letters and sounds (including combinations of letters, blends and digraphs), and paying specific attention to their use in the formation of words; * attention to syllables in longer words; * recognizing alliteration, sound patterns and rhyme; * experimenting with sound symbol relationships in their own writing.

LEVEL-RELATED ... Subsequently, pupils should: * be taught the alphabet; * be taught to identify initial and final sounds in words; * build up a sight vocabulary of common words in books read, or the reading scheme(s), and from their personal experience; * apply knowledge or phonic and spelling patterns to their own writing.

p29 SoA. INITIAL READING SKILLS. Pupils should be able to: say the alphabet; identify first and final sounds in spoken and written words. EXAMPLES Highlight the initial letters of children's names by singing a rhyme about the alphabet. Using objects, the names of which begin or end with the same sound (eg pen, pencil, paint, picture; coat, boat), list them and identify how the sound might be written.

COMPREHENSION Pupils should be able to: read aloud a minimum of 30 common usage words in a simple, short narrative. Words such as: boy, girl, shop, cat, dog, mum, dad, book, big, small, they, I, we, you, was, had, can, come, go, and, of, the, to.

p30 KS1, LEVEL 2

ii) Information about words - what can be learned about word meanings and parts of words from consistent letter patterns including: * plurals - by adding 's', 'es', and 'ies'; * spelling patterns in verb endings - 'ing', 'ed'; * relationships between root words (eg magic) and derivatives (eg magician).

iii) Word recognition - a developing vocabulary of words recognized on sight. Pupils need to be able to read words automatically and quickly. Pupils should acquire a sight vocabulary which extends from a few words of personal importance (their name, mum, dad) to a larger number of words from books and the environment around them (verbs, adverbs, adjectives).

LEVEL RELATED Pupils should: * be taught to combine initial sounds, simple consonant blends and vowel patterns and to learn common irregular words; * be taught about word endings (-ing, -ed), syllables, word families, roots of words; * learn how to use dictionaries to check spellings and find meanings.

LEVEL 3. Pupils should be taught about: * more complex blends and digraphs; * inconsistencies in phonic patterns; * prefixes and suffixes. Pupils should be taught to develop a sight vocabulary which goes beyond the personal and words in reading schemes.

p31 STATEMENTS OF ATTAINMENT INITIAL READING SKILLS. LEVEL 2. Pupils should be able to identify two-letter consonant blends and the most common digraphs; use more than one strategy (phonic, graphic, syntactic, contextual) when reading unfamiliar words. EXAMPLES al, aw, or, ar, sp, st, cl, ce, ci, cy, ch, sh, ir, cr, th, ou, ow, ge, gi, gy, ai, ee, ie, oa, oo, au, oi.

LEVEL 3. Pupils should be able to: use with confidence a range of cues (phonic, graphic, syntactic, contextual) to read unfamiliar words.

p47 AT 3: Writing (including Spelling, Grammar and Handwriting)

p49 General introduction: progress in writing is characterized by * more accurate spelling. STRAND - spell correctly.

Initially, pupils should: * be encouraged to make early attempts at writing using letters and known words; * discriminate between words and letters. Activities should: * help pupils understand the alphabetic nature of writing and pay attention to the visual spelling pattern of a growing number of words.

Subsequently, pupils should be taught to * start and finish letters correctly; * form lower case and capital letters correctly; * write common letter strings within familiar and common words, eg their name, 'ring', 'hand', 'shop'; * remember the spelling of familiar words and use them in their writing; * recognize the most obvious sound of each letter.

p51 SoA
Spelling. Pupils should be able to write each letter of the alphabet. EXAMPLES Add the letters of the alphabet to an illustrated version of the poem 'A Was an Apple Pie'.

p52 PoS KS 1, KS-RELATED, LEVEL 2 10 Spelling Pupils should be taught to: * write each letter of the alphabet; * learn simple spelling patterns; * spell commonly occurring simple words; * use simple morphemes (un-, in-, -ed, -ing). They should be taught to check their writing for accuracy. Teachers should continue to encourage pupils to experiment with the spelling of complex words and, at the same time, discuss misapplied generalizations and other reasons for misspellings.

p53 SoA Spelling Pupils should be able to: spell simple monosyllabic words correctly. EXAMPLES: cat, dog, sun, leaf, desk, skip.

p55 LEVEL 3 SoA Spelling Pupils should be able to: spell simple polysyllabic words which conform to regular patterns. EXAMPLES: because, after, open, teacher, animal, together.

p57 KS 2, LEVEL 4, SoA Spelling Pupils should be able to: spell correctly complex polysyllabic words which conform to regular patterns. EXAMPLES: medical, procession, signature, demonstration.

7 Spelling Pupils should be accumulating a bank of words which they can spell correctly and learn to check spellings ... using a dictionary ... They should use their knowledge of letters and words including: * initial and subsequent letters; * the relevance of roots and origins of words, eg 'loveliness' is to be found under 'lovely'; * alternative ways of spelling the same sound eg n as in gn, kn, mn, pn.

p59 SoA Spelling Pupils should be able to: spell correctly words with inflectional suffixes and consonant doubling and vowel deletion where required. EXAMPLES: tapped, tapping; running, jotting, dimming, coming, hoping, liking.

p65 KS 3 and 4, LEVEL 6, SoA Spelling Pupils should be able to: spell correctly polysyllabic words which do not conform to regular patterns. EXAMPLES: accommodate, acquaintance, conscience, irrelevant, schedule, technique.

p66 KS 3 and 4, 6 Spelling Pupils should continue to use their knowledge of regular patterns of spelling, word families, roots of words and their derivations. They should learn to spell correctly increasingly complex polysyllabic words which do not conform to regular patterns. They should proof-read their writing carefully to check for spelling errors and use a dictionary correctly. Classroom activities should develop discrimination in relation to homonyms (their, there, they're), and sight rhymes (tough, rough, slough). Pupils should be taught to use dictionaries to check spellings.

Letter accompanying SSS response.

(Origin and date omitted. Heading and footing condensed)

Sir Ronald Dearing, CB, Chairman, National Curriculum Council

Dear Sir Ron


Thank you for sending the questionnaire for the National Curriculum English consultation. We now enclose it, along with documentation amplifying our response.

Our comments all relate directly or indirectly to spelling, both under AT2 and AT3, and they are of two kinds.

Some of the comments concern points of detail and accuracy, and these we hope may help the NCC to make some refinements and corrections to the present Proposals.

Others of our comments however suggest a radical reappraisal of the role and character of English spelling in the National Curriculum. They do not make specific suggestions for action (as our submission of October 1992 did), and we do not imagine they can have an immediate effect an the present Proposals. Their purpose is rather to point the way to the future, when we believe the need to modernize English spelling will become ever more urgent.

We hope our submission may lead to a recognition of the importance of this question, and to its consideration in due course by curriculum and assessment authorities. We will be glad to assist in any way we can in this long overdue task, and will continue to communicate our views at appropriate junctures, as we have done from the time of the Kingman Report onwards.

We would be grateful if we could be sent whatever guidance material on spelling has already been, and may in future be, produced for the National Curriculum.

Yours sincerely, Christopher Upward, Editor-in-Chief,
on behalf of the Committee of the Simplified Spelling Society.

See SSS response to the proposals.

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