Controversy at jubilee

Harvey McGavin

The Queen's English Society marks its silver jubilee by holding a conference on "Controversial Issues in English" on October 18 at the London Institute of Education. Speakers will include Chris Woodhead, HM chief inspector of schools, on "Standards in English" and Professor John Honey on "The Enemies of Standards in English".

The society, which now has 720 members, was formed in 1972 by a teacher who deplored the decline in standards of English. Its aims are to educate the public in the "correct and elegant usage" of English and discourage "the intrusion of anything detrimental to clarity or euphony". It campaigned for the inclusion in the national curriculum of compulsory study of formal grammar, such as parsing and sentence analysis.

Critics have claimed it is a right-wing body espousing upper-class English. But QES patron Dr Joyce Morris, a literacy specialist who has spent 40 years campaigning for improvement in teaching initial reading, strongly denies this. "It's not about having a posh accent, and we are non-political," she says. "What we are trying to do is to get all children into a situation where their spoken dialect is respected but where they do have a chance of mastering standard English spelling and grammar. Otherwise they will still be at the bottom of the heap for jobs, however clever they are."

She points out that Dr John Daniels, the Nottingham professor who invented the phonic word method, was a Maoist. "It's no good talking about going back to traditional phonics," she adds. "We need methods based on modern knowledge. The society wants a better system of training young teachers using better methods. "

The conference will be held at the London Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1. Fees: Pounds 25 with lunch, Pounds 15 without (Pounds 5 off for members). Details: Miss Cawood, tel: 01923 824217. Applications to: D Ellis, Fernwood, Nightingales, West Chiltington, West Sussex RH20 2QT.

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