[Newsletter N2, part 2. September 1991 from Chris Upward (Editor)]
(Efemeral membership matters have been omitted.)

Reply from DES to Open Letter from SSS

Readers will recall that in our last Newsletter N1 (April 1991, p.5) we carried the text of an open letter from the Society to the British government dated 25 March 1991, pointing out that, laudable though its aim of improving spelling standards is, it needs to be reinforced by measures to make English spelling easier to learn. We now give the relevant section of the reply received from the Department of Education and Science (DES), along with the relevant documentation and some reactions, on which readers' views are invited. They may serve as a basis for formulating an eventual reply by the SSS.

1 Reply from the DES


... apologise for [delay in replying] ... volume of correspondence addressed to Ministers makes it necessary to have many letters dealt with by officials on their behalf.

We appreciate your concern and found the points raised in your letter very interesting.

However, the Government is tackling the need for improved spelling performance in quite a different way. Its aim in introducing the National Curriculum progressively into schools is to improve literacy standards, including spelling. The statutory Order for English includes an Attainment Target (AT4) specifically for spelling. It is supported by programmes of study and comprises 7 levels which are appropriate to the different abilities and maturities of the pupils being taught. This will ensure that pupils are taught spelling in a structured way. Regular assessment will mean that children having problems will be identified at an early stage and appropriate help can be given.

Yours sincerely
P R Watson. Schools branch 3.

2 National Curriculum Documentation

Relevant excerpts from English in the National Curriculum (No.2), Department of Education and Science and the Welsh Office, FB4SO, March 1990.

(Explanatory note from Newsletter editor-The levels apply to age-ranges as follows:

Age 5-7 (schoolyears 1-2): Levels 1-3.
Age 7-11 (schoolyears 3-6): Levels 2-5
Age 11-14 (schoolyears 7-9): Levels 3-8
Age 14-16 (schoolyears 10-11): Levels 3-10.)

p.7, Attainment target 2: reading.

Pupils should be able to:

Level 1:
b) begin to recognize individual words or letters in familiar contexts.
e.g. In role-play read simple signs such as shop names or brand names; recognise 'bus-stop', 'exit', danger.

Level 2:
b) demonstrate knowledge of the alphabet in using word books and simple dictionaries.
e.g. Turn towards the end to find words beginning with 's', rather than always starting from the beginning.

p.12, Attainment target 3: writing.

Pupils should be able to:

Level 1:
a) use pictures, symbols or isolated letters, words or phrases to communicate meaning.
e.g. Show work to others, saying what writing and drawing mean.

Level 2:
a) produce, independently, pieces of writing using complete sentences, some of them demarcated with capital letters and full stops or question marks.

Level 3:
a) produce, independently, pieces of writing using complete sentences, mainly demarcated with capital letters and full stops or question marks.

p.17, Attainment target 4: spelling

Pupils should be able to:

Level 1:
a) begin to show an understanding of the difference between drawing and writing, and between numbers and letters.
b) write some letter shapes in response to speech sounds and letter names.
e.g. Initial letter of own name.
c) use at least single letters or groups of letters to represent whole words or parts of words.

Level 2:
a) produce recognisable (though not necessarily always correct) spelling of a range of common words.
b) spell correctly, in the course of their own writing, simple monosyllabic words they use regularly which observe common patterns.
e.g. see car man sun hot cold thank
c) recognise that spelling has patterns, and begin to apply their knowledge of those patterns in their attempts to spell a wider range of words.
e.g. coat goal feet street
d) show knowledge of the names and order of the letters of the alphabet.
e.g. Name the letters when spelling out loud from a simple dictionary or word book.

Level 3:
a) spell correctly, in the course of their own writing, simple polysyllabic words they use regularly which observe common patterns.
e.g. because after open teacher animal together
b) recognise and use correctly regular patterns for vowel sounds and common letter strings.
e.g. grow growth growing grown grew
c) in revising and redrafting their writing, begin to check the accuracy of their spelling.
e.g. Use a simple dictionary, word book, spell checker, or other classroom resources; make spelling books or picture books.

Level 4:
a) spell correctly, in the course of their own writing, words which display other main patterns in English spelling.
e.g. Words using the main prefixes and suffixes.

p.19, Attainment target 4/5: presentation

Pupils should be able to:

Level 5:
a) spell correctly, in the course of their own writing, words of greater complexity.
e.g. Words with inflectional suffixes, such as -ed and -ing, where consonant doubling ('running') or -e deletion ('coming') are required.
b) check final drafts of writing for misspelling and other errors of presentation.
e.g. Use a dictionary or computer spelling checker where appropriate.

Level 6:
a) recognise that words with related meanings may have related spellings, even though they sound different; recognise that the spelling of unstressed syllables can often be deduced from the spelling of a stressed syllable in a related word.
e.g. sign, signature; medical, medicine; muscle, muscular; history, historical; grammar, grammatical; manager, managerial.

Level 7:
a) spell (and understand the meaning of) common roots that have been borrowed from other languages and that play an important role in word-building; recognise that where words have been borrowed in the last 400 years, there are some characteristic sound-symbol relationships that reflect the word's origin.
e.g. micro-, psycho, tele-, therm-;
ch- in French words like 'champagne', 'chauffeur', 'charade', and ch- in Greek words like 'chaos', 'chiropody'; compared with the ch- in long-established English words like 'chaff, 'cheese', chin'.

p.30, Programmes of study for reading-

7. Through the programme of study pupils should be guided so as to:
12. In order to achieve level 4, pupils should be taught how to use lists of contents, indexes, databases, a library classification system and catalogues to select information.

p.35, Programmes of study for writing, spelling and handwriting

8. As they become familiar with the conventions of writing, pupils should be introduced to the most common spelling patterns of consonant and short vowel sounds. Pupils should be taught how to spell words which occur frequently in their writing, or which are important to them, and those which exemplify regular spelling patterns. They should be encouraged to spell words for themselves, and to remember the correct spelling, eg. by compiling their own list of words they have used. They should be taught the names and order of the letters of the alphabet.

18. Pupils should: 20. Pupils should discuss the history of writing and consider some of the ways in which writing contributes to the organisation of society, the transmission of knowledge, the sharing of experiences and the capturing of imagination.

23. Pupils should be helped to recognise explicitly the different stages in the writing process: 25. Pupils should have opportunities to:

3 Editorial comments

The following are some immediate reactions from the Editor to the above documentation. They are intended for discussion by the Society's committee, with a view to developing a possible response to the DES. Readers are asked to send any comments they may wish to make to the Editor by October 10.

1. It is good that the Government wishes to ensure spelling is taught in a structured way. However, such structuring as is apparent in the documentation is confined to general hints and a few examples, and it is hard to see how they can help to give the classroom teacher more than the vaguest idea of targets to be achieved. The central issue of the irregularity of English spelling and its consequences for teaching is largely ignored. The crucial question of how far pupils are expected to spell correctly by the time they leave school is not addressed.

2. Since phonics is the only basis for structured teaching of an alphabetic writing system (however defective it may be in English), it is surprising that it scarcely figures in the documentation. Phonics, as the psychological key to the learning process, should be clearly stated as such and given appropriate attention. For instance, when asking children to distinguish shop, stop, it is important they understand the specific functional difference' between them.

3. Phonics implies that pupils are made aware first of the sounds of English (they will need to contrast them with the sounds of other languages later on in the National Curriculum anyway) and then how the letters of the alphabet ideally represent those sounds. This is a psychologically structured approach, moving from the known to the unknown: pupils normally enter school with at least some command of English pronunciation, and are taught to analyse the sounds made in speech and then their main symbolic correspondences.

4. The vagueness and tentative tone of the documentation suggests a lack of conviction. Children are only to 'begin to recognise', 'show knowledge of', 'begin to show an understanding', 'write some letter shapes', 'produce ... not necessarily always correct... spelling', etc. While full knowledge and fully developed skills are of course acquired gradually, teachers surely need clear targets to aim for at each stage. The aim should be that pupils recognize, know, understand, write all letter shapes, and produce correct spelling. Actual achievement will fall short in some cases, but then the deficit would be identifiable.

Two examples: 1) the documentation says that when looking for <s> in the dictionary, pupils are expected to "turn towards the end, rather than always starting from the beginning". If pupils are trained to recite the alphabet, the instruction here could read that pupils should look between <r> and <t>, rather than vaguely towards the end of the dictionary. 2) Pupils are to write some letter shapes in response to speech sounds and letter names. Which ones? Why not all? Which are they not required to write and why not?

5. Instead of a systematic phonic approach to spelling, we find haphazard coverage of certain types of spelling pattern, most of which are not clearly specified. How are teachers to know what these patterns are if they are not specified? Are pupils expected to write all words correctly or not? If not, which words do not have to be spelt correctly? For example, if pupils are to learn to write grammar by analogy with grammatical, are they not expected to learn error, because of the false analogy of erratic?

6. The constant repetition of the phrase "in the context of their own writing and reading" seems to imply that pupils will not be expected to learn anything that goes beyond their own linguistic experience. Is there to be no systematic expansion of vocabulary and the spellings that go with it?

7. It appears that the significance of some of the spelling examples given is not properly understood. Amongst the words described as observing common patterns are because, animal; it is precisely because they do not observe common patterns that these two words are found difficult (because is unique, and decimal is the only other word of the pattern animal that pupils are likely to encounter in early years). Similarly, the pattern of grow etc contrasts confusingly with the patterns of go and to bow. The point about the prefixes <un-, in-> etc is not their own spelling, which could not be simpler, but the consonant doubling they may entail (so distinguishing innocuous/inoculate etc. And the point about the suffixes <-able>, <-ful> is that they must be distinguished from the suffix <-ible> and the adjective full. The beaded/bedded contrast misses the main difficulty, which arises from 'magic' <e> in pairs like hope/hop, leading to hoped/hopped.

8. The caveat that words with related meanings may have related spellings is important: English so often gives related words (or morphemes) incongruent spellings that this technique is unreliable. Beside the case of error/erratic mentioned above, such pairs as speak/speech, high/height, line/align, proceed/procedure are naturally confusing, and the inconsistent spelling of bound morphemes in particular causes great difficulty (insistent/resistant, receipt/deceit, panic/panicky etc).

9. Pupils are expected to check their spellings using a dictionary. This is easier said than done: how do pupils know which words to check for misspelling? How do they find an irregularly or wrongly spelt word in the dictionary?

10. It is good that pupils should study exotic sound-symbol correspondences such as <ch> in chauffeur, chaos. However it is illogical that they should do so without apparently already having learnt the reasons for such fundamental, and fascinating, native patterns as the silent letters in gnaw, know, who, write, through, the discrepancies of sound-symbol correspondence between bead/bread/bed, and the spurious <s> in island, <c> in scissors, <gh> in delight, etc. When pupils are having to grapple with an irregular system, they need to understand the nature of that system.

11. The constant emphasis on the visual at the expense of the phonic is disturbingly one-sided " raising questions such as the following: 1) does building up a vocabulary of words recognized on sight mean the spelling of these words need not be learnt? 2) why are pictures, word-shapes and guesswork given the same status as 'phonic cues' in identifying words? Literacy means being able to distinguish words without pictures or context, even when their word-shapes differ by just a single letter.

12. It is good that pupils should study the social history of writing. However, if such knowledge is intended to be relevant to their task of mastering English spelling, it is of far greater relevance that they learn of the linguistic history of writing. Above all, they should learn about the alphabet and how it came to be corrupted in English.

See Cut Spelling in Journal topics.

Progress Report on Cut Spelng

from Chris Upward

Impatience has been undrstandbly groing at th delay in publishng th long-promised documntation on Cut Spelng (CS). Readrs deserv an update on progress.

A brief note for readrs ho may not yet be familir with CS. CS seeks to simplify english spelng chiefly by omitng redundnt letrs by thre rules. CS cuts
1) letrs irelevnt to pronunciation,
2) vowls preceding post-accentul shwa befor <1, m, n, r>,
3) dubld consnnts.

Ther ar also 3 letr-substitutions:
1) <f> for <gh, ph>,
2) <j> for soft <g>,
3) <y> for <igh>. CS is demnstrated in this report.

Since th rite-up began in erly 1990 of th work of th Cut Spelng Workng Group (Paul Fletcher, Jean Hutchins, Chris Jolly, chaird by Chris Upward), th task has stedily grown in magnitude. Orijnly pland in th form of 3 slim pamflets, a Handbook, a Dictionry and a Lernrs Gide, it soon became clear that th Handbook wud be too big for bindng as a pamflet, indeed it is now nearly 150 pajes long and will need to apear as a paperbak. Because of this, it was then decided that, to giv th documntation a symetricl format, it wud be best to combine th Dictionry and Lernrs Gide into a simlr paperbak, so making two larjr volumes insted of thre smalr ones.

As far as th content is concernd, it can be reportd that, apart from an index, th Handbook is efectivly complete (tho th introduction wil need som reriting). Th raw Dictionry was completed at th turn of th year 1990-91, but since then a radicl amendmnt has been introduced into th CS systm wich wil mean that most <-ing> forms wil need chanjing in th Dictionry to just <ng>. Work on th Lernrs Gide, wich wil consist mainly of exrcises, is now wel undrway, but it remains th larjst uncompleted part of th documntation.

Wen wil it al be finishd, and wen wil SSS membrs and th many peple outside th Society ho hav expressd an intrest in CS receve ther copis? It is optmisticly hoped that th text may be complete by th end of septembr, and that copis wil be distributed by th end of th year. But past experience sujests that som furthr patience may be cald for...

Publications available to members

in addition to those listed in Newsletter N1 (but printed copies are no longer available: April 2003).

Laurie FENNELLY New Spelling 90,
Simplified Spelling Society Pamphlet, 33pp., No.12, 1991, amended simplified outline of the Society's classic spelling reform proposal of 1948.

Bernard SHAW Androcles & the Lion,
Shaw Alphabet Public Trustee's Edition, 151pp + Shaw Alphabet Key Card for reading and writing, 1962. Explanatory foreword and introduction, with parallel texts on facing pages. Shaw bequeathed money to finance a competition for a new alphabet for English, and this volume demonstrates the winning entry, by Kingsley Read.

Christopher UPWARD English Spelling and Educational Progress,
CLIE (Committee for Linguistics in Education of the British Association for Applied Linguistics & the Linguistics Association of Great Britain) Working Paper No. 11, July 1988, 28pp. A broad survey of the state of Traditional Orthography, discussing some recent statements in its support and its historical and geographical context, as well as techniques of analysis (especially functional), and concluding with a brief rationale of Cut Spelling.

Future issues of the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society
Long-standing SSS member Ken Ives of Chicago has generously offered to produce an American edition of the JSSS, to appear later this year. Not merely will this give a further lease of life to a publication which has regrettably failed to appear since 1989 (owing to pressure of other orthographical activity), but it will give added strength to the vital American dimension of our world-wide cause.