HC Deb 12 February 1991 vol 185 cc725-6
11. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress has been made over the introduction of his policy to improve spelling standards in educational establishments.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

We have made spelling a separate attainment target in English in the national curriculum. The systematic testing of spelling as part of the assessment arrangements for English will begin to be phased in from this summer. I am awaiting a response from the School Examinations and Assessment Council to my request that, in marking GCSE examinations, sensible account should be taken of bad spelling.

Mr. Bruce

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that teachers who resist the correction of spelling in subjects other than English do their pupils a great deal of harm? Does he agree that this is indicative, in our teaching system, of educationalists setting the agenda, rather than employers and parents, who are very keen that children should be good spellers? I am a convert—when I was at school I was a diabolical speller—and as an employer I would not take on a secretary who could not even fill in an application form using accurate spelling.

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that he is reassured by my experience, since spelling was raised again in my letter to the School Examinations and Assessment Council, that many teachers share his view and mine. The changes that we are making in the national curriculum and to the GCSE—when I get a response from the council—will lead to all schools realising the importance of spelling, which the public want to be part of the systematic teaching of all pupils.

Ms. Armstrong

We welcome the Government's somewhat late conversion to the recognition of the importance of spelling.—[Interruption.] Perhaps since the Government have been in office for 12 years, they will discover numeracy next. Why is it that during the past 12 years there has been no research on how to teach spelling effectively and no support to teacher education institutions to ensure that teachers know how to teach youngsters how to spell? What a 12-year legacy.

Mr. Clarke

I am not sure that the subjects of reading, spelling and grammar require much more research than they have already had. They require good practice. Through the national curriculum and the changes that I am proposing to the GCSE, I trust that that good practice will soon come about.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many people believe that spelling was taught effectively in days gone by and that there is no need for more research on how to teach spelling and grammar? Will my right hon. and learned Friend look back a few years and see how it was done then, and remind teachers of the effectiveness of teaching in former times?

Mr. Clarke

I do not usually join in arguments about whether standards have fallen. However, it is the experience of most of us that standards of spelling have dropped in most of the correspondence in which we engage. It is important to tell teachers not how to teach spelling but to underline the importance of it as we introduce the national curriculum and modify the examination system.

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