Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Simplified Spelling Society (EYF 11)

  1.  We congratulate the Education Committee on the many very sensible recommendations which it made regarding staffing and the general environment for Early Years, but many of them are costly and not easy to implement. They would also entail sustained higher spending year after year.

  2.  It appears that the Committee was very impressed by early years provision in Denmark and that this strongly influenced its recommendations for UK.

  3.  We would like to point out that identical child-care provision during the early years can lead to very different results later on. Denmark's neighbour Sweden delays formal schooling until the age of seven, allowing children to learn mainly through play before then, exactly like Denmark.

  4.  In international comparisons Sweden has regularly been found to have the most literate adult population in the world. Denmark shares the UK's well-documented problem of poor adult literacy.

  5.  Swedish and Danish are very similar languages, but Sweden modernised its spelling in 1907. Neither Denmark nor England have made a serious attempt to modernise their antiquated, irregular, unpredictable and therefore very-hard-to-master spelling systems.

  6.  All improvements in early years provision are aimed at better educational outcomes in later years. Modernising our spelling would be a cheap, simple, long-lasting and certain way to raise educational achievement from infant to university level. Many countries accomplished this in the last century by the same method which Sweden chose in 1907.

  7.  Is it not obvious that learning to read with baffling spellings like "bread, dream, break—through, though, tough—call, shall—now know—do, go" has to be fiendishly difficult? Learning to spell identical sounds in umpteen different ways is even harder: try, die, high—street, treat, metre, meteor—ceiling, thief—they, play—stole, coal, soul, roll—few, cue, queue—dizzy, busy—blood, mud—muddy, study.

  8.  English has a minimum of 3,456 words with some spelling unpredictability. Italian has at most 700 such words. As a result of this difference the majority of Italian children can spell virtually every word in their language after two years of primary school while large numbers of English-speaking children still cannot spell many common words at the age of 16, after 11 years in full-time education.

  9.  Our children need to start formal schooling very early because they have to learn so much more than many other nationals in order to become reasonably competent spellers by the age of 16. Simplifying our spelling system would free up time for play and creativity in the early years and guarantee higher educational standards as well as less frustration and disaffection all round, but among boys in particular.

April 2001

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