Opinions: Does spelling realy matter?: Education secretary John Patten last week advised universities to reject applicants who can't spell

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A S BYATT, novelist, erstwhile member of the Kingman committee on the teaching of English: Language is a system designed to be transparent, and if it is full of blodges it gets irritating. Bad spelling came about because teachers are less well-trained than they were. There is terrifying evidence from the armed forces that we are being endangered by people who can't understand the instructions they are given because they can't read or write.

JON NORTON, banker: There's far too much emphasis on spelling. Britain is such a bookish society that the visual arts tend not to be valued. In most situations it's more important to be able to speak well or tell a good joke. Most people can understand a mis-spelled word.

RICHARD INGRAMS, editor, The Oldie: I tend to think it does, because the English language is so confusing anyway. It's common now for people with Oxbridge degrees to be fallible.

LIZ LOCHHEAD, poet and playwright: I wouldn't think someone a fool because they wrote seperation instead of separation.

WILL GREEN, Honorary Secretary, Esperanto Association of Britain: Esperanto is totally phonetic so there's never any spelling problem. Children can read it within minutes.

ZOE REDHEAD, principal, Summerhill School: The problem is that people judge you by it. Provided you don't care what people think about you, you don't have to be able to spell.

DAVID LAWRENCE, Latin teacher in a private school: I gave a test to my pupils yesterday; they didn't know the difference between practice and practise or between dependent and dependant. The trouble is, very few of them do much sustained reading.

TREVOR MILES, unemployed aged 20: Yes, it stops you writing all sorts of things and it's embarrassing.

MICHEL SLEZAK, 17, at school: I don't think it matters particularly, as long as the person you are writing to understands what you are trying to say.

MARY JONES, English teacher: You are not allowed to deduct marks in an A-level English exam for bad spelling, as long as the mistakes don't 'hinder communication'. But obviously it gives a bad impression.

(Photograph omitted)

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