Casting the write spelling

29th October 2004 at 01:00
I recently conducted some correspondence with the Department for Education and Skills about spelling. They replied that their policy was in favour of "correct" spelling. However, when asked to illustrate what that was, they were unable to do so. In order to make the task simpler, I asked for a ruling on "gray", and "skeptic". They wrote back that they were unable to add to their previous reply. (Perhaps I should not have pointed to the insanity of "sceptic".) In a globalising world, it is difficult to see how pupils can be told that to use the international ("American") spellings is wrong.

No one nowadays writes "gaol" except in an historical context. Increasingly, too, "programme" refers only to a booklet sold to theatre-goers. Therefore, it is difficult to know why "jewellery" should be preferred to "jewelry", and so on.

"Gray" is an interesting case, because it was always the preferred spelling. Now that "grey" has come south from Scotland, and maybe by analogy with "greyhound" (where "grey" does not mean "gray") "gray" has come to be thought of as "American".

In the absence of any coherent government policy, what is the poor teacher to do? My solution would be to accept a wider range of alternative spellings, but to point out that use of certain spellings can provoke a violent response by some, including employers and academic staff.

Incidentally, your report "Just phonics lifts boys" (TES, October 8) shows how boys respond to logic, rather than rote. This indicates that their literacy would be improved by regular spellings.

Robert Craig

20 Priory Road

Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

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