Spelling lists scorned as 'control freakery'

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Many teachers are appalled at the Government's new blitz on key words for 14-year-olds.

Clare Dean and Julie Henry report

SECONDARY schools reacted angrily this week as the Government issued lists of more than 700 key words that ministers believe every child of 14 should be able to spell.

The lists arrived in schools this week. They include such commonly misspelt words as accommodation, business, knowledge and necessary.

They prompted outrage among English teachers, who were in the vanguard of the boycott of the standard attainment tasks a decade ago.

Bethan Marshall, assistant secretary of the National Association of Teachers of Education and architect of the 1990s revolt, warned: "English teachers will not do this. They will be infuriated by it. Do ministers really think that English teachers are so useless they have to be given a list of spellings to teach? Not even the Tories gave us a list."

Primary schools, as The TES revealed last week, are already being advised to make sure children aged between five and seven spend at least 15 minutes a day on spelling and handwriting.

The spelling lists for secondary schools are part of the key stage 3 framework for teaching English. They follow an analysis of national tests which revealed that many 11-year-olds struggled with everyday words. The analysis pinpoints spelling as a priority for pupils transferring from primary to secondary.

Games teachers, mathematicians and artists are being enlisted alongside English teachers in the fight against shoddy spelling, using spelling lists drawn up by a number of secondary schools. Maths teachers will be expected to teach pupils words such as symmetrical and perpendicular. Easel and acrylic will be taught in art, and quadriceps and athlete will feature in PE.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"Secondary schools will not accept this level of detail and control over what they teach. The Government has to understand tha the key stage 3 strategy has to be introduced in a different way to the primary literacy and numeracy strategies. This is control freakery of the worst sort. " Margaret Morrissey, press officer for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, was against the use of spelling tests. "I would really be sad if a child was inhibited from writing because they couldn't spell."

Sandie Buckley, literacy co-ordinator for Glenmoor school, Bournemouth, said: "Giving schools a list of isolated words is probably not the best way for children to learn them."

Andy Goodwyn, senior lecturer in English and media education at Reading University, welcomed the move to get all subject teachers involved in literacy. "In principle, as long as the spelling lists are merely advisory and intended to support teachers they are OK.

"My one fear is that teachers themselves will think that the lists have to be taught through spelling tests. This is not a productive way for children to learn."

The Department for Education and Employment said use of the spelling lists was not compulsory and that schools must make their own judgment how to structure lessons.

English warrior, 12 KS3 English and Numeracy frameworks: www.standards.dfee.gov.uk


Examples from the lists sent to schools this week

Art: easel, frieze, impasto, sketch

Design and technology: aesthetic, hygiene, ingredient, polyester

Drama: applause, freeze, rehearsal, scenario, theatre

English: alliteration, genre, onomatopoeia, rhyme

Geography: amenity, estuary, infrastructure, rural

History: chronology, economy, reign, siege? ICT: cursor, disk, megabyte, program

Library: anthology, encyclopedia, glossary, thesaurus

Maths: axis, isosceles, rhombus, tonne

Music: crotchet, minim, quaver, timbre

PE:athlete, gymnastic, quadriceps, tournament

RE:biblical, commandment, hymn, synagogue

Science: alkaline, insect, organism, vertebrate

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