Personally speaking Julie Clark

My son, when asked, cannot spell `peanut', `varied', `bodies' (bodys) or `introduction'
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The Independent Online
Am I the only person left who gives a monkey's about spelling? Having almost had an international incident with my 13-year-old over whether one begins a project with an "introuduction" (his version) or an "introduction" (mine), I am beginning to think I must be.

Amazing how my reasoned responses, faced with the bored resignation that is peculiar to teenagers, are reduced to those of a reactionary juvenile. I actually want to get out the dictionary and point to the damn word: "LOOK! INTRODUCTION. SO THERE. I'M RIGHT."

What has brought me to this sorry state of affairs? Schools. And teachers.

I suppose I should say, "the education system in this country", but it isn't some abstract education system you're grappling with on a wet Wednesday night in Wolverhampton, is it? Not when you're parked in front of Mr or Ms Grim at parents' evening. Teachers are, (understandably) one of the most defensive professions on earth, but their reluctance to do anything other than offer the usual platitudes about our problem has made us despair.

Forget class size, Dearing and the Harman factor. If you've had to endure Mr Barmy the geography teacher for one year too many, and feel like whipping up an educational hornet's nest, ask the head teacher: "Why aren't your staff correcting my child's spelling?"

Explanations offered to us, on the same evening, included:

"Spelling is always corrected" (head);

"Some spelling is corrected - must not put the poor dear off (nervous teachers, who suspect you're going to point triumphantly at child's untouched book);

"Spelling that is subject-related is corrected" (usually from experienced teachers, who aren't going to be given the run-around by this snotty pair, thank you very much).

If you're especially lucky, you will also receive a homily on education in general, the pay and conditions of staff, or everything under the sun (bar what you came to get an answer to).

We've had promises to "look into it", to do a trawl of his teachers to see if there are any problems (there's just one - he can't spell), and to test for any special needs. The bottom line is that my son, when asked, cannot spell "peanut", "varied", "bodies" (bodys) or "introduction".

Let's not forget "medieval". If only subject-related errors are corrected, why does he have "medieval", in his history book, spelt six different ways on the same page, with a dirty great tick at the end of it? It really undermines us as parents; we are the nasties trying to "ruin his creativity" as his English teacher put it. Er, no, actually, we just want him to be able to spell.

My suggestion that my son be given a list of spellings in a little book to learn each week with us at home was met with indifference, which developed into scandalised horror when we mentioned paying for a tutor for half- an-hour each week. His English teacher says it isn't a good idea to "bully him". Such a wilful misreading of our genuine anxiety is insulting and lazy; responding to it calmly is difficult. When I'm put on the defensive, my voice comes out in the measured tones I use at work, when what I really want to do is tell him not to be so bloody stupid.

It's a real dilemma. As an advocate of open access, flexible learning and comprehensive education, feeling so strongly about something as ordinary, boring and orthodox as spelling seems to go against the grain. What the hell, I'm out of the closet: I believe in the importance of spelling. It's a rum do when only teachers and schools think that a child's ability to spell is not a priority (I can assure them that employers don't share their view). There is also something faintly patronising about it; rather like those who are top-heavy in the certificates department protesting that pieces of paper "don't really matter." (Unless, of course, you haven't got any, when they matter tremendously.)

In case you were wondering, in terms of ability and attitude this 13- year-old is not at either extreme of the scale (nor are his parents). The good news is that our lovely boy has just got his best mark ever for a holiday project. Libraries have been visited, encyclopaedias unearthed, educational trips undertaken with military precision. If there is an award for maternal support for a piece of work done in the school holidays, I intend to nominate myself. The finished result, which is interesting and presentable, earned him an A* and me a letter of thanks. Oh, and it is all beautifully spelt n

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