Wanted, a Spell of Good Spelling

Article excerpt

Byline: KEITH WATERHOUSE

ONE thing to be said in favour of this wretched new millennium is that at least we all now know how to spell it. When the Dome was but a mad gleam in a politician's eye (it was Michael Heseltine's, but who's counting?), most of us, including me, thought the word had only one 'n'.

When I say we can all spell millennium I exaggerate. The standard of spelling in some schools is so bad that children can barely spell their own names. So bad, indeed, that Education

Secretary David Blunkett is to impose rigorous spelling tests in primary schools, beginning with the 2,000 worst performers.

I wonder whether there could be any connection between children being unable to spell and the fact that teachers have been told to add to their many duties the checking of the little darlings' packed lunches to ensure that they're not living on junk food.

In my young days this would have been a chore for the dinner lady, teachers being left to concentrate on the three R's. Perhaps they could combine the two tasks by getting their charges to spell what they eat. The boy with the ratatouille and mayonnaise sandwich stands to score full marks on both counts.

As to why children can't spell, it can only be that teachers don't place enough importance on the subject, believing as many do that giving a bad mark for bad spelling discourages such creative urges as motivate the spelling of successful with an 'x'.

Tony Blair isn't helping with his crazy ambition to put a laptop on every school desk. The spellcheck will do for spelling what the pocket calculator did for arithmetic persuade youngsters that there is no point in learning what a piece of machinery can do better.

SPELLING is not, as many people believe, a knack but a skill, although it's true to say that there are many brilliant writers who nevertheless have a tin ear for spelling. I was about to cite the example of Jeffrey Archer who can't spell for toffee, but given that he can't write for toffee either, it hardly proves my point.

We all have spelling blind spots.

One of mine is calender, or should that be calendar? Another is medieval, which we're told children ought to be able to spell at aged ten - I tend to stuff the middle of the word with extraneous vowels like sultanas in a pudding.

But even with a language as eccentric and irregular as our own, there are ground rules to be learned if there is somebody there to teach them - that is, a good teacher who is also a good speller. …