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NEWS SHEET 5. January, 1976. Part 3.
ACHIEVEMENTS during 1974-75.The Society has now got a reasonable and workable CONSTITUTION. I put this constitution together after a study of the constitutions of other societies and after much discussion with the committee and other members. It was presented to the members at the A.G.M. 1974. It was decided to put it on trial for a year to get suggestions for alterations from members. At the end of one year's trial it became clear that it. fulfilled most of our needs and it was voted at A.G.M. 1975 the established constitution of the Society. The constitution may in the course of time be found to need some modification but great care should be taken in doing this. We should not rush into alteration for alteration's sake or to meet the wishes of vested interests. This latter can lead only to the kind of cat-fighting that went on before. The section most likely to come under fire is section 16. This is almost certain to be attacked by persons who have composed alphabets and who would like to modify this section in order to work to get their own alphabets into a favoured position. I would strongly advise against any change for 3 years.
Copies of the Constitution are being sent to all new members with this number of NEWS SHEET. Older members who need new or extra copies should send a stamped addressed 9" x 5½" envelope and a postal order/cheque for 20p per copy needed with their requests.
The effect of the new constitution is to set out clearly and in some detail the responsibilities and duties of the various parts of the Society. The Society, of course, belongs to its members and so all decisions on policy and finance are naturally made in accordance with the wishes of the majority of members as expressed at a general meeting, or by a poll of members. The members of the Society choose a number of executives each of whom has a function laid down in the constitution. The committee has a supervisory function only. It has no powers over the Society's finance or policy, nor on matters on which the Society as a body has already made a decision. In the constitution (Section 4) it is laid down that "The main function of the Committee shall be to ensure that resolutions of the AGM are carried out in good time and in accordance with the intentions of the AGM". The committee has no independent financial powers of its own. The Constitution (Section 4) states "The committee shall have power by a majority vote of those present to cause to be expended for the purpose for which they were voted all funds voted at the AGM. The committee has no powers beyond this." The committee has also, for the first time, been given real power to enforce its functions. We have previously had the experience of an officer who claimed the committee had no power to direct him because he had been elected by the members. This kind of thing is now impossible. Section 12 of the constitution now says "The Committee may, by a majority vote of those present for a good cause and on issues relevant to the activities of the Society, suspend until the next AGM
(a) Any member from MembershipThe Society also now has for the first time ever an efficient CENTRAL FILING SYSTEM. This was devised by myself and Mr Leslie Blake. Previously it seems that no records (except minutes of meetings) were kept. An efficient information retrieval system is now sine qua now in the running of a Society expanding both in its activities and membership. It will become more and more important as the Society and its functions grow.
(b) Any officer from his office."
Our new LETTERHEAD was put together as the result of a study of letterheads of comparable institutions. It was composed by Mr Leslie Blake and myself. Mr Blake did most of the research. He spent a good deal of time with Who's Who, The National Dictionary of Biography, the Society's Minute Books etc. and visited several libraries to get the data established. One member has claimed in a letter to USA that some of the details are inaccurate but when I wrote to him asking for corrections for the next printing he was apparently unable to produce any. The current letterhead has been described as "The best piece of propaganda ever put out by the Society." I have proposed slight changes in the lay-out of future stationery and these will be discussed and, I hope, passed at our next committee meeting. This proposal provides that the names of all officers be included in the letterhead. Several of the busiest officers, e.g. publications secretary, education secretary, records secretary, et al. are now not included. The comments of members are invited on the Society's letterhead. These may be sent to me, as I am, since it is a publication of the Society, responsible for its production.
In order to regulate the Society's financial affairs I put together the FINANCIAL REGULATIONS. These were drawn largely from my experience as an administrative grade civil servant and at director level in two large international companies. The Financial Regulations were given provisional approval by the votes of members before the A.G.M. 1975 and are currently on a year's trial. I hope members may be wise enough to pass them without too many changes at this year's elections.
In the present state of the Society's - and, indeed, the world's - finances, very careful planning is necessary. So also is very careful control of expenditure. The cardinal principle should be that every expenditure should show a benefit - even a profit - to the Society. Let me give two examples to show what I mean.
At the 1974 AGM a member requested a grant of £15 to finance an 'Open Day' which he proposed to hold. It looked like a good idea: fifteen new members would reimburse the grant; any more would show a profit. I asked for a more detailed analysis of the cost. I was told by the chairman that it was detailed enough. As a final outcome no 'Open Day' was held; the Society's £15 was lost together with some of the member's own money and the Society got no benefit from what was essentially a very good idea. If a detailed cost had been worked it would probably have shown that the sum asked was not enough to do the job proposed and a suitable addition to it could have produced a satisfactory result. There is a danger in trying to do work on a shoe string.
When I drew up the plans for the First International Conference I was able to produce detailed costings for each part of the operation. I was able to guarantee that there would be no loss if we got 40 enrolments, as a minimum. Above this number we should start to show a profit. I was able to guarantee that in the event of complete disaster the Society could lose no more than £250. Rather reluctantly the committee approved the sum I asked for. In the outcome we made a profit of some eighty pounds and acquired several new members.
NEWS SHEET was probably also a step in the right direction. It has suffered from the fact that I have not been able to devote sufficient time to it - occupied as I was with duties which have now been off-loaded on to the Secretary, Financial Secretary, Education Secretary, Recording Secretary. We have new ideas for the future for this intro-Society new publication. For example we hope to have a report from all the executive officers of the Society in each issue in future. The Treasurer will for example give the state of the bank accounts; the Secretary the names of new members; the Recording Secretary an outline of committee business, and so on. In this way we hope that members, especially those at a distance will be kept more in touch with the affairs of our (and their) Society. We shall be delighted to receive suggestions for the improvement of NEWS SHEET.
The high point of our year was our FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE. When I first proposed holding it the committee gave a cautious consent. It was a very strenuous time. I wrote, myself, literally hundreds of letters to folk who, I thought, might be interested.
Mr Stanley Gibbs gave vigorous help with our advertising campaign. Mr Vic Paulsen in U.S.A. gave massive assistance. The high numbers of speakers and members from U.S.A. were the result of his energy and zeal. It was easier to get help in the actual running of the conference when the time came. Here Miss M. Chaplin and Mr Reed gave valuable help at a time when I was, perhaps, feeling a bit tired. We were also lent the services of Mr Sunny B. Udohnsseh by Dr. D. Pidgeon of the i.t.a. Foundation. Sunny is the best conference organiser I know.
In the event the conference was a success from every point of view. We had an attendance of around fifty. This was sufficient to ensure that there would be a little profit. The profit was augmented by the fall of the pound in relation to the dollar and so our overseas friends' subscriptions became worth a little more than I had intended when I fixed them.
The College of All Saints (in London) proved an excellent venue for the conference. There was a fully-equipped lecture hall with additional space available, if needed. There were comfortable study bedrooms with all mod. cons. The food was excellent and plentiful. The staff at all levels were helpful and anxious to make our stay a success.
The papers, lectures and discussions represented a varied and interesting intellectual pabulum, ranging from pre-historic writing down to the latest developments in written communication. There were also presentations on teaching methods and on English as a Foreign Language. Eminent scholars from many countries flew in at their own expense to give presentations. Apart from the United Kingdom, members of the conference came from countries as diverse and distant as Switzerland, U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Nigeria, and Germany. Several publishers paid us to exhibit their books.
Before the conference I had a letter from a well-known British Professor who said "I think the idea of a conference is excellent and I must congratulate you on the very active way in which you are seeking to raise the standard of the Society's activities. I think if you carry on in this way there is some possibility that the Society may achieve some degree of credibility."
I think with the success of the conference we passed the 'credibility barrier'. It has certainly been much easier since then to get PUBLICITY and encouragement from the Press and other media. We have had a 'spot' each on BBC Television and BBC radio. We have had notices in The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Yorkshire Post, The Teacher, Lancashire Post and a number of other papers. We had a serious two page article in 'Punch'. There have also been a number of notices overseas including one in a Saskatchewan paper which spoke of "the very active Simplified Spelling Society". I am informed also that the Open University now mentions the Society in at least one of its courses. I believe at least one other University does so also.
We have also taken an important step forward in gaining PRINCE PHILIP'S PATRONAGE of the Society. When I put this idea forward first at a committee meeting before the AGM it was received with dubiousness. One member (Mr Lawler) said "He'll never join a propaganda society". I was in agreement with this and so for some time had been working to turn the Society into a well-run body which would be more than a mere propaganda society. Many of our previous activities had been planned to lead directly to this. First there was the establishment of a decent administration system through the Constitution and the Financial Regulations; the NEWS SHEET leading to plans for a more scholarly journal 'Reading & Spelling'. Finally the success of the Conference and the favourable publicity made me realise that the time to make an approach to the Palace would never be riper. I had put down a resolution for the AGM asking our President to act formally on behalf of the Society. I decided not to withdraw it. The scene had been set as well as I was able to set it and negotiations went through with remarkable speed.
During the year we also got our first outside assistance in the shape of a direct GRANT FROM A FOUNDATION. The Thomson Foundation (Director Mr T. Neil) very generously gave us a grant of nearly £400 to pay Dr Osanyinbi's expenses from Nigeria in make his presentation on "The Gambian Experiment". If it had not been for this munificent assistance it would not have been possible for Dr. Osanyinbi to present this important paper in person. The Thomson Foundation had already paid out the sum of £400 to cover the cost of the collection and analysis of data by the West African Examinations Council. Thomson Foundation has also already promised a further £600 towards the cost of publishing this important paper in a separate volume describing all stages of the Gambian experiment. The importance of this paper is now starting to be felt internationally and I have had several enquiries about it. There will be a publication concerning it later this year in the journal of the International Reading Association in U.S.A. I think I can in all fairness say that the Society has made more overall progress in the past year and a bit than it made in the preceding 20 years.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE.I have drawn up a number of plans for future activities. The A.G.M. has already approved my proposal for the 2nd INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE in 1977. Although I will have no responsibility for this I will be most happy to give as much help as I am asked for by the Education Secretary, Mr Stanley Gibbs, who will be making the arrangements. I hope that all members, at home and overseas, will keep free the last week in August 1977 to attend this major function of the Society.
It will I hope be possible to launch our external journal READING & SPELLING in April. Contributions of a serious nature are now invited from all members of the Society and from others who are interested.
It is my responsibility at present as publications secretary to launch also our volume of the PROCEEDINGS OF THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON READING AND SPELLING. This volume has already shown signs of being a possible commercial success. The Sub-committee on Education of the United States Senate has expressed a desire to see a copy. We have a number of orders on hand - mostly from overseas - and these will help to making it a commercial success. We have also some demands for review copies from influential journals.
I have applied my usual criterion: to show a benefit, possibly even a profit, to the Society in my calculations on this matter.
I have also drawn up new plans for a MEMBERSHIP DRIVE. We desperately need new members to help us in our activities in these inflationary times. I made a promise at the 1974 AGM to get 400 new members for the Society. In the event I had to make a choice between the things we have already achieved (as described earlier) and an all-out membership drive. I believe I may have made the right choice and we can now show possible new members some evidence of our activity and performance.
I leave my plans with my best wishes to my successor as secretary.
I will myself be willing to remain as Publications Secretary until I have achieved success in the publication plans outlined above - provided I am not subjected to a continuation of the kind of harassment about which I had to complain at the 1975 AGM when I had to appeal for protection against the unconstructive contentiousness of certain members. If members do not approve of what I am doing there is a procedure laid down in the Constitution to have an officer removed from office. It would be better for the Society if such members were to make use of this procedure rather than write abusive letters to me.
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