Back to part 1, part 2, part 3.

NEWS SHEET 5. January, 1976. Part 4.


These are such an important part of our projected plans that I am giving them a special section of their own. A trial is a scientific experiment aimed at finding some aspect of the truth about something. A comparison trial is a kind of competition when two or more things are compared in an attempt to decide what advantages each has. Such an experiment if it really is to find out the truth must be allowed to proceed unaffected by any kind of bias. If a trial can be influenced in any kind of way by any kind of vested interest it is no longer worth while carrying out because its results have little chance of telling us the truth. A trial, therefore, must be both carefully and honestly planned. This Society is fortunate in being able to have the advice of Prof. Downing, our President, in planning our trial. Prof. Downing is probably the world's most experienced planner of comparison trails in reading in English.

Prof. Downing has also found for us a Research Controller in the person of Mr W. Bellin, a member of the University of Reading. Mr Bellin is, I understand, prepared to draw up a design for our trials and to supervise them for the period covering the length of the course in the Infants School, to score (or supervise the scoring) of the tests; to prepare a statistical evaluation of the scores and to render a report. We are very, very lucky, indeed, to have the services of such a well-trained expert.

Finance is, of course, a very difficult matter for the Society at the moment - and, indeed, at all times! The AGM 1975 did not provide any finance for this project but merely gave permission for an investigation to be made and estimates of expenditure to be drawn up. I am writing (as the original trial instigator) to Mr Bellin asking him to give me at least a rough calculation of the expenses he will need and, if possible, the approximate periods at which such funds will be necessary. Depending on his reply I will know whether to put a proposal at the next AGM or to take an earlier poll of the members. It is possible also that I may be able to get help from a Foundation. I am investigating this.

At both AGM and Conference it was explained that the trials were being planned as inexpensively as possible. It was agreed that those who wished to have their alphabets tested would have to provide suitably prepared reading material for the children or alternatively would have to pay, in advance, for the cost of production, where this is possible, of the reading and teaching materials to be used.

The alphabets accepted for trial at the AGM are:

1. New Spelling 1948
2. Torskript
3. Consistent Spelling
4. Readspell
5. Ed. Smith's Script
6. i.t.a.
V. Paulsen
W. Gassner
(Late)Kingsley Read
Ed. Smith
Sir James Pitman
Ed. Smith
Prof. Downing
7. Traditional Orthography As the control medium.

Thus as planned at present seven alphabets are to be schedules for trial. This may be imposing too great a burden on Mr Bellin, our Research Controller, and we must consult him on whether this number ought to be reduced.

I, personally, would be in favour of dropping i.t.a. It has already been researched literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of times and the results of this research have been widely published and are easily available to everyone anywhere in the world. i.t.a. does not need any further research. Quite apart from this we are supposed to be investigating alphabets suitable for spelling reform. i.t.a. is the openly declared enemy of spelling reforms: its rationale is to ease the path of learners into our traditional spelling - exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do. There is also the fact that Sir James Pitman has frequently said that i.t.a. is unsuitable as a spelling reform and should be used only as a transitional alphabet.

I would favour the retention of New Spelling, 1948, in any circumstances. This is the descendant of several earlier versions, which were produced by some of the greatest scholars who have lived. New Spelling 1948 has been polished and perfected over the years by eminent linguists, phoneticians and orthographers. It also has a high place in the considerations of the Society's members. It won an easy victory in the count of the votes at the last AGM asking for its reinstatement for use in the Society. Unfortunately the resolution as such was out of order - which does not affect the value of New Spelling 1948. New Spelling 1948 has had the attention and blessing of many more distinguished scholars over a much greater number of years than any other alphabet in the competition. With so much of the Society's money and brains invested in it it ought at least to be given a trial.

Soon after I joined the i.t.a. Foundation Sir James Pitman showed me the design of a trial in teaching English as a foreign language which was going on in Nigeria. It took only a few minutes inspection to show me that this trial as arranged could not possibly show any real differences between the groups being compared. I wrote a memo to Sir James saying this.

In the fullness of time the trial ended; the results were published and showed - no differences of any importance between the two groups!

This was, of course, the result of a poor design.

My long experience in Africa had shown me that the vagaries of our lying alphabet are a major difficulty to learners of English at all ages. I drew up a new design for another trial and approached the Government of the Gambia to allow us to set it up in that country's schools. An enlightened Director of Education (Mr Sam Jones) and a far-seeing Minister (Hon. Kalilu Singhatch) gave consent. Apart from a short teacher's course, which I gave, the management of the trial was entirely in the hands of the Gambian Ministry of Education. The trial was scheduled to last for 2-3 years but came to an abrupt end almost exactly at the end of two years. This was brought about by the refusal of Sir James Pitman to continue the supply of i.t.a. materials when I left the i.t.a. Foundation. Nevertheless the Gambian Ministry collected written tests and sent them to the West African Examinations Council for scrutiny, scoring and evaluation. The results were published at our Conference in 1975 and showed - overall a significant difference in favour of those who had learned in i.t.a. - a simplified script!

It was all a question of design.

The question must inevitably arise whether testing is to be done before and/or after transfer to ordinary English spelling. It is my opinion that such tests should be done only in the medium the children have learned in. The scripts used (except i.t.a.) are not designed as transitional scripts and so it is not fair to test them as such. It is immoral to test something for a purpose for which it was not designed. i.t.a. is not the same kind of thing as these other scripts since it, but not they, was designed as a transitional script. Different kinds of things are not really comparable and this is another reason for excluding i.t.a. from the trials. I would like to have members' opinions on this.

Then there is to be considered the kind of tests to be given. In the past in Britain in all published trials the tests have been oral. The two tests which have been most used are those by Schonell and Neale. Schonell is a word test. Prof. Haas (Manchester University) believes that children trained through i.t.a. would, after transfer, perform better on a Word Test. We ought to have tests which give all children an equal chance. This is yet another reason for excluding i.t.a.

We ought also to consider the adminstration of written tests - perhaps of the kind used in The Gambia. These are very easy to adminster and skilled personnel are not needed. They are economical in time as they can be given as Group Tests. They are very easy to score and again skilled personnel are not needed for this. It is only at the stage of evaluation that skilled personnel are needed. They can give a better estimate of the real literacy of children than oral tests alone. At the least there is a case for their additional use.

It is usually (but not invariably) considered appropriate that all children taking part in a trial of reading should use the same series of learning materials.

This applies to both experimental and control groups alike and is done to reduce the number of variables in the trial. In a trial where there are several variant alphabets in competition the provision of learning materials is likely to be both difficult and expensive. In the present trial seven sets of the same material in the six different alphabets and T.O. would be needed. At the A.G.M. discussion I put forward the suggestion that each contestant should accept full responsibility for the provision of materials in his own alphabet. This was accepted without demur.

Then the question arises: which course materials to use? There are very many production difficulties attached to the use of materials already on the market. There is also the fact that prior familiarity with the use of these materials might give certain teachers or groups of children an advantage. It occurred to me that it might be better to use new material which could be produced in a uniform format for all groups. I have been using my own school for a course of my own composition which is based on the commoner nursery rhymes. It has now been in use there (and only there) for three years. The success rate among children using it has been quite high - so we know it works. It has been produced in duplicated form on a typewriter. There are no illustrations - the children make their own and paste them with the lessons into a scrap book. It seemed to me that the use of this course might solve many problems.

I wrote around the inventors of the alphabets to be tried and all of them have now agreed that they are willing to produce the material needed for the trial.

I do not, however, wish this to be the final word on this matter. I should not wish it to be felt that I have used my (former) position as secretary of the Society to press something which might be to my own advantage. If an alternative is available I would prefer that it should be used. I invite suggestions on this point. Please do not send them to me but to the Chairman.

There is another point which needs careful consideration. In deciding that seven alphabets should be included in the trials we may have been biting off for our Research Controller a bit more than he can comfortably chew. I think he must be consulted about this before we proceed. I thing he should be invited to say - not which alphabets should be tried out (it is surely for the Society to decide which alphabets it wants to be tested) - but rather if the number now proposed is too great. I believe he should be invited to state how many alphabets he thinks might be included. I think we should follow his opinion in this matter. I do not know of any past trial which has included more than four writing systems. If any alphabets are omitted from the present trial, they may be included in another trial in the near future.

The committee has passed a resolution giving complete control of the conduct of the trial to the Research Controller. It has also authorised the formation of a sub-committee for the purpose of rendering assistance to him when he asks for it. Those who would like to become members of this sub-committee should sent their names to the Chairman for proposal at the next committee meeting.

I am asking the Research Controller by means of this item if he would kindly make an estimate, however rough, of any expenses he foresees over the period of the trial. It would be a good thing also if he - could agree to come to a committee meeting to discuss this and other things with the committee. I would then undertake to put all that has been agreed upon into a suitable proposal for the sanction of members at the A.G.M. in 1976.

I have one final bit of advice which I should like to offer to members of the Society - especially to those whose alphabets are part of the trial. Please do not write to or call on the Research Controller on any matter connected with the trial. You will not be able to influence him in any way. All you could possibly do would be to throw suspicion on the results of the trial. I fear it is necessary to issue this warning. Already one member has got in touch with the Research Controller. The committee has discussed this and agreed that it was innocent enough, but dangerous. There is no danger whatever that the Research Controller will be influenced by anything other than the facts. However, it is very likely that when the results are published that Mr. PQRS whose alphabet did not win might well be tempted to say something like "It isn't fair. Mr. XYZA went to see/ wrote to the Research Controller. My own alphabet is really the winner." Anyone with any experience of this Society knows quite well that this is a like possibility. I appeal to members not to spoil this wonderful opportunity the Society has to sponsor apiece of research which can produce important results in the teaching of reading and also bring credit to the Society.

LIST OF MEMBERS as at 30th September 1975.

(Appendix to NEWS SHEET 5)

You can keep your list up to date by adding the names of new members as they appear in NEWS SHEET.

[First names, street numbers and names, towns and postcodes have been omitted.]

H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh, K.G.,K.T.
1A Prof. John Algeo, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia USA.
2A Mrs B.D.Askew, Yorks.
3A Mrs M.P.Asquith, Yorks.
4A Prof. E.A.Betts, Fla. USA.
5A Mrs E.M.Binns, Cheshire.
6A Mr A.R.Brown, London.
7A Mr G.S.Bryden, Edinburgh.
8A Mr P.W.Burke, Croydon.
9A Herr W.Neuburger, Bund fur vereinfachte rechtschreibung, Zurich, Switzerland.
10A Ms.S.Carnochan, Herts.
11A Mr A.Cashdan, UKRA, Milton Keynes.
12A Miss M.Chaplin, Brighton.
13A Mr L.Collins, Yorks.
14A Mrs Collins, Yorks.
15A Mr S.T.Cradick, Essex.
16A Mr R.Cropper, Kent.
17A Miss M.Cross, Northants.
18A Prof.F.N.Daniels, London.
19A Miss B.M.S.T.Darley, London.
20A Mr W.J.F.Davies, Hants.
21A Mr Leo.G.Davis, Calif., USA.
22A Mrs G.Dekker, Yorks.
23A Mr J.S.Dekker, Yorks.
24A Mr T. Dickinson, Newcastle upon Tyne.
25A Mr W.B.Dockrell,S.C.R.E., Edinburgh.
26A Mr Raymond Elser, Lyons, NJ., USA.
27A Mrs Eustace, Guildford.
28A Mr C.E.C.Eustace, London.
29A Mr S.S.Eustace, London.
30A Mr L.R.Fennelly, IOW.
31A Dr P.Freer, Rondebosch, South Africa.
32A Mr R.T.Garbutt, ... School, Bristol.
33A Dr W.Gassner, Randwick, NSW.
34A Mr S.Gibbs, Middlesex.
35A Mr C.I.C.Harrison-Wallace, Sussex.
Hon. Mr M.Harrison, Southport.
36A Mr. R.E.Hayley, London.
37A Ms G.Hildreth, Sea Cliff, N.Y.
38A Mr A.Hobson, Caernarvon.
39A Prof. T.Hofmann, Dept.of Linguistics, Ottawa University, Ottawa, Canada.
40A Mr H. Jamieson, Texas, USA.
41A Mr A.G.Jones, Sheffield.
42A Mr B.Jones, Coventry.
43A Mr J.K.Jones, London.
44A Mr R.Landolt, Nafels, Switzerland.
45A Mr K.H.Lavender, Kent.
46A Mr R.J.Lawler, London.
47A Mr A.P.Lawson, London.
48A Dr W.R.Lee, Middlesex.
49A Miss V.M.Lengyel, Colchester.
50A Mr E.Lewis, London.
51A Mr J.F.McBride, Edinburgh.
52A Mr Michael McCallion, London.
53A Mr D.J.McCann, Swindon.
54A Mrs P.McKeown, Bristol.
55A The Rt.Hon.The Lord Maybray-King,P.C., Southampton.
56A Mr R.Mayhew, Calif., USA.
57A Prof.J.E.Merritt, Milton Keynes.
56A The Rt.Hon.The Lord Merthyr of Senghenydd,P.C., Pembrokeshire.
59A Mr C.Milburn, Lincoln.
60A Mr R.Moore, Hoole, Chester.
61A Mr J.E.P.Mordaunt, Hants.
62A Mr D. Moyle, Lancs.
63A Mr H.M.Mustapha, Language Centre, University of Essex, Colchester.
64A Mrs E.Oakensen, Northampton.
65A Mr G.O'Halloran, London.
66A Mrs E.O'Hara, Co Durham.
67A Mr F.K.Ogden, Hove.
68A Mr C.W.Orange, Bristol.
69A Mr J.R.Orange, London.
70A Mrs R.B.Orange, London.
71A Dr J.Osanyinbi, West African Examinations Council, Lagos.
72A Mr V.P.Paulsen, San Francisco, Calif.
73A Mr G.Rae, London.
74A Mr B.Read, Stafford.
75A Mrs M.Reed, Kent.
76A Mrs G.M.Rolls-Willson, Surrey.
77A Mr W.J.Reed, Kent.
79A Mr E.Rondthaler, N,Y.
80A Mr V.G.T.Rosewell, Wimbledon.
81A Mr A.E.Rupert,KOC IRO, Ontario, Canada.
82A Mr H.Schmitz op der Beck, W.Germany.
83A Mr J.H.Seager, Essex.
84A Mrs J.M.Shelley, Surrey.
85A Mr E.Smith, Kent.
86A N.W.Stafford, Washingborough.
87A Prof.D.H.Stott, Guelph, Ontario.
88A Mr M.Swan, Hants.
89A Dr A.Tauber, Yonkers, NY. USA.
90A Mr M.Taylor, Hants.
91A Mr K.Tillema, Ontario, Canada.
92A Miss Tudor-Hart, London.
93A Mr N. Tune, Hollywood, Calif., USA.
94A Mrs J.A.Turner, Yorks.
95A Mr G.Unsworth-Mitchell, Essex.
96A Mr M.Varney, Worcs.
97A Prof. G.Verboven,SUCL; Belgium.
98A Mrs J. Walker, West Midlands.
99A Mrs E.J.White, Yorks.
100B Prof. A. Wijk, Stockholm.
101B Mr H.S.Wilkinson, Halifax.
102B Mrs D.Wilkinson, Halifax.
103B Mr J.W.Lewis, Leeds.
104B Mr P.Wright, Stockport.
105B Dr A.Zettersten, London.
106B Dr. The Hon. D. Everinghmm, Queensland, Australia.
107B W. Latham, Sheffield.
108B Mrs V. Yule, Osmond College, Victoria, Australia.
109E Prof. R. Carrel, School of Education, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.
110B Dr. B.Williams, Chichester.
111B Mrs D.Hewling, Exeter.
112B A.R.G.Burrows, Velez-Malaga, Spain.
113B D.I.Masson, Leeds.
114B Prof. J. Downing, Dept. of Education, Victoria University, Victoria, BC, Canada.
115E Kerry Monaham, Lyons, NJ. USA.
116B A.P. Wells, Dorset.
117B Prof. D. Abercrombie, Dept. of Linguistics, Edinburgh.
118B Mrs Wijk (See 100B above)
119B Mrs G.Williams, Surrey.
120B Mrs M.A.Rashley, Isle of Wight.
121B Mr J.Power, Middx.

Back to the top.