[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J24, 1998-2, pp33,34]
See further correspondence with Literacy Policy Makers.

Lobbying Literacy Authorities.

We here publish the SSS's latest correspondence with the two leading bodies concerned with literacy standards in England. Previous correspondence was published in JSSS J21, 1997/1, pp27-32 and JSSS J22, 1997/2, pp33-34.

Professor Michael Barber
Head of Standards & Effectiveness Unit
Department for Education & Employment
Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street

26 June 1998

Dear Professor Barber

We have pleasure in sending you the latest issue (1998/1) of the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, in which you may find a number of items of interest.

We continue to follow the progress of the National Literacy Strategy and to admire its purposeful approach to the raising of basic literacy standards. There are, however, two aspects of its recent work on which we wish to comment.
Directly, we see the Framework for Teaching (p62) envisaging that in Year 5 children will be rehearsing the irregular spelling of elementary vocabulary (words like eyes, friends, light, money, and many, many more). The boredom, frustration, wasted time and sheer learning failure thereby implied require no elaboration. Yet if such spellings were simplified, the problem would evaporate.

Indirectly, we see the demands of literacy acquisition encroaching on other National Curriculum subjects. We accept the present need for priority to be given to literacy (and numeracy), but we hope that, once the targets of the National Literacy Strategy have been met, the place of those subjects will be reconsidered. We note that the National Curriculum is to be reviewed, and we see here an opportunity for addressing the balance between literacy and other subjects at primary level.

Comparison with other alphabet-based languages will be found revealing on all these matters - see, eg, Downing [1] and Thorstad [2]. We therefore urge that, as part of the evaluation of Phase 1 of the National Literacy Strategy, research be commissioned to establish how much time is spent acquiring literacy skills in English compared with other languages, and how much time is devoted to other subjects. The EU may have an interest in co-sponsoring such an investigation.

We predict that such research will show that English learners (along with the French) are at a significant disadvantage, which we should all be concerned to reduce.

Yours sincerely

For the Committee of the Simplified Spelling Society

cc to Dr Nick Tate, Sir Claus Moser

[1] ed. John Downing (1973) Comparative Reading, Cross-National Studies of Behavior and Processes in Reading and Writing, New York: The Macmillan Company: comparison of literacy acquisition in 13 countries.

[2] Gwenllian Thorstad (1991) 'The effect of orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills' in British Journal of Psychology, 82: 527-37: comparison of literacy acquisition in English and Italian.

Dr Nicholas Tate, Chief Executive,
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
Newcombe House, 45 Notting Hill Gate

26 June 1998

Dear Dr Tate

Following our correspondence with you in 1995 and 1996, we are now writing in connection with the National Curriculum review that has been announced.

We are also writing to Professor Barber (copy enclosed) and wish to make essentially the same point to you, namely that the difficulties of English spelling are distorting the balance of the National Curriculum and are educationally damaging generally.

We hope to persuade relevant authorities such as the QCA and the National Literacy Strategy that the review of the National Curriculum and the evaluation of Phase 1 of the National Literacy Strategy together offer a unique opportunity for constructively addressing this issue.

We will here mention just two areas (from many that could be cited) that epitomize the unnecessary difficulties of English spelling. One is the ambivalence of Anglo-American variations which we analysed in the paper we sent you on 15 July 1996. The other is the arbitrary 'rule' i before e except after c, with its few instances and many exceptions. We urge the National Curriculum Review to consider whether it is right that our children should still have to try to assimilate, with a notoriously high failure rate, such arbitrary variations as:
1) the added difficulty in British spelling of consonant doubling before the verbal suffixes -ed, -ing, thus with irregular ll in travelled, travelling, contrasting with regular single l in American traveled, traveling and regular ll after the stressed syllable in compelled, compelling.

2) relieve with ie, but receive with ei.
We believe that the National Curriculum should prescribe a modest selection of simplified spellings to ease the path to literacy for future generations. We would be glad to know your views on this suggestion.

We also have pleasure in sending you the latest issue of our journal, in which you may find a number of items of interest.

Yours sincerely

For the Committee of the Simplified Spelling Society

cc to Professor Michael Barber, Sir Claus Moser

From Dr Nicholas Tate

17 July 1998

Thank you for your letter of 26 June and the copy of your letter to Professor Barber concerning the review of the National Curriculum.

I have passed copies of the letters to the English team here at QCA who will consider your comments in the course of their work on the review. However, I would like to draw your attention to several points concerning the suggestions you have made.

Changes to the spelling rules, of the kind that you advocate, are beyond the remit of the QCA. Our concern is with what should be taught in the curriculum and the assessment of pupils' knowledge, skills nnd understanding. The current English Order specifies in the Writing programmes of study that spelling patterns and word formation are taught systematically. The National Literacy Strategy, which has a different function, reinforces this message and sets out teaching objectives which detail particular patterns and rules.

So far as the review of the curriculum is concerned, you will have seen from press releases that the government is keen to maintain stability and strongly advocates therefore that there should be minimal change to the English order.

Thank you for your continuing interest...

Yours sincerely

Nick Tate

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