Marking of children's spelling to be stricter

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN in England and Wales will be marked on spelling, punctuation and grammar in their GCSE coursework from next term, Baroness Blatch, the Minister of State for Education, said yesterday.

The new rules apply for teachers marking work in all subjects except maths, music and art and follow those introduced for this summer's GCSE examinations. Dyslexic children and those with other handicaps will be exempt.

Although only 5 per cent of marks are at stake, Lady Blatch's directive is the latest in a two-year battle between Conservative ministers on one side and their advisers and the examination boards on the other in which bad spelling has come to symbolise the evils of trendy teaching methods. The examination boards delayed and then diluted the more stringent penalties ministers wanted.

Employers, notably Prince Charles, have denounced poor standards of spelling among their staff. Meanwhile, right-wing critics of modern teaching methods have argued that accuracy has been sacrificed for creativity and free expression.

Lady Blatch said yesterday that employers were right to value accurate writing skills. 'Spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSE coursework will now be subject to the same scrutiny as we introduced this summer for GCSE exams,' she said.

'We do a disservice to the school children of this country if we allow them to think 'sloppy' written work is acceptable. Accurate writing skills are a basic requirement of the world beyond school and employers are right to value them highly.'

Candidates will be placed on one of three levels for spelling, grammar and punctuation. To reach Level 1 and gain one mark they will need to be competent in all three skills and able to make their meaning clear. To reach Level 3, the top, and gain between four and five marks, they will need to show a high level of accuracy and to use words and specialist terms 'adeptly and with precision'. Those not reaching Level 1 will score zero.

As part of their coursework, students are encouraged to revise their own work, which usually leads to improved spelling. Teachers also predict that the ruling will boost girls' marks because they are, in general, better spellers than boys.

In 1990, John MacGregor, the then Secretary of State for Education, criticised 'slipshod' standards and asked the School Examinations and Assessment Council - which advises the Government - to look at spelling in exam scripts. He referred scathingly to instructions to history markers from the Southern Examining Group saying that they should assess the attainment in the subject, not candidates' English. The instructions stated: 'The candidates' English does not have to be marvellous, but they do have to communicate their meaning.'

The dispute over spelling played its part in the overhaul of the Examinations and Assessment Council, instigated by Kenneth Clarke, when he was Secretary of State for Education.

When Mr Clarke renewed the attack later in 1990, Philip Halsey, secretary of the council, told him no changes could be made until 1992. Mr Clarke was furious.

Mr Halsey was replaced by Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, a former adviser to Baroness Thatcher. The council is now to be merged with the National Curriculum Council under the Government's recently announced White Paper plans.

Although candidates have always had marks deducted for poor spelling and grammar in English papers and coursework, the examining boards were reluctant to penalise pupils in other subjects and fended off ministers for two years. Current guidelines for GCSE examinations allow marks to be added for good spelling and punctuation and are less stringent than Mr Clarke intended.