The power of language

7th March 1997 at 00:00

The last two years have been relatively quiet ones for English in the national curriculum, as one of the TES Book Award judges points out in his report (TES2, page 6).

Not that you would guess so from the newspaper and television coverage of literacy initiatives, ungrammatical undergraduates and teachers who - allegedly - can't spell. But perhaps even here there is something to celebrate, that the subject of our common language remains an emotive one. English, in all its variety and inventiveness, is our means of transmitting culture - all our cultures - in this country. Inevitably "correctness" has become a political matter, seen by some as a means of perpetuating class differences and maintaining the superiority of an elite. But it need not be so.

This year's Schoolbook Award is for English. The judges are all in favour of diversity as well as accuracy in the use of the language, spoken and written, and especially enjoyed the titles submitted by the English and Media Centre (TES2, page 8). Literature is not just good for you, it can be fun. Language is not just about jumping through the right hoops, it can give you power to express yourself with pleasure and cogency.

All of which fits well with the objectives of the Better English Campaign, whose slogan is "language is power". Trevor McDonald, chairman of the campaign, presented the TES Books and Resources Awards at the Education Show in Birmingham yesterday, and paid tribute to the way the winning entries show the benefits of using language appropriate for different subjects and occasions.

Our Resources Awards, however, proved challenging over a wider front. Last year the TES launched the Mixed Media Resources Awards, hoping to encourage packs or schemes which made the most of emerging technologies by combining print, audio, video, or software in a creative way - in which the user was obliged to do something, not just passively browse through a mass of information. Sadly, few entries showed that publishers had grasped the technological nettle.

A year on, there is little sign that companies are being any more adventurous, although the judges found a worthy primary winner in CUP's Village Life in India. It is a sad reflection on the current state of affairs that, in the secondary category, two out of the three short-listed items were sponsored (the TSB Bank for Artsbound, the eventual winner and the Royal Navy for HMS Ark Royal: Action Engineering).

It looks as if the printed word is still holding its own against technology and the rest.

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