The sad decline of written English

18th November 2005 at 00:00
You would have us believe that English standards are rising ("Modern masters of GCSE English", TES, November 4) but aspects of the Cambridge Assessment study show exactly the opposite.

This "major academic study" reveals how slipshod notions of language have become. Colloquial language is appropriate for speech rather than writing: the "dramatic increase" of this in written exams shows a lapse in standards, as candidates are now unable to distinguish between the two kinds of language and the examiners do not, apparently, consider the distinction worth preserving.

We read that "otherwise able 16-year-olds often wrote at length without any full-stops or commas": that "otherwise able" is good! What this reveals is their inability to realise the breaks and divisions in their thinking: so, how could their ability be judged high? It is absurd to regard punctuation as a disposable convention, unrelated to the underlying organisation of thought. It is not, therefore, surprising to read that even A-grade pupils could not distinguish "of" from "off", because of the laxity of this "examination" system.

"Findings on spelling were less positive" - in other words they couldn't spell as well as their predecessors of 10 or 20 years previously; the phrase "less positive" is Orwellian in its aim of concealing an unpalatable truth.

Language has been corrupted in the so-called educated class whose business it is to uphold standards.

"Pupils have better mastery of written English" - emphatically not, as the report demonstrates.

Nigel Probert 15B South Snowdon Wharf Porthmadog

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today