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Celebrating a failure

Celebrating a failure

This week people who advocate the updating of English spelling celebrate a failure that almost led to important changes in our written language.

Fifty years ago, on February 27, 1953, MP Dr Mont Follick's Spelling Reform Bill passed its second reading in the British House of Commons, an astounding event that promised much but eventually delivered little. It also passed the committee stage, but because there was no chance of the House of Lords approving it, it was withdrawn after a compromise was reached between its supporters and the Government.

The Secretary of Education undertook to inquire into the effect the current spelling had on teaching children to read and write. A survey was carried out jointly by two respected educational institutions, London University's Institute of Education and the National Foundation for Educational Research. They tested children being taught in the current alfabet, and those taught in the experimental fonic-friendly initial teaching alfabet (ITA). Overall, the ITA children learned more quickly, wrote longer stories with a wider vocabulary, and had a better attitude to learning.

"ITA was a teaching experiment only, and did not endure, despite its better results," says Allan Campbell, New Zealand spokesman for the Simplified Spelling Society.

"But the experiment showed that English-speaking children, given an effective tool, can learn to read and write as quickly and efficiently as, say, Italian children," he said. "This evidence keeps us advocates of spelling change committed to the task of removing a major hurdle to a better literacy standard."

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