Friday focus - Time to spell out the needs
PUBLISHED: 11:51 10 March 2006 | UPDATED: 21:46 28 May 2010
BRITISH students are being shamed by their overseas counterparts at one of our top universities when it comes to spelling and grammar. Because of the way these elements of education have been taught in our schools and the sloppy way we now speak and write
BRITISH students are being shamed by their overseas counterparts at one of our top universities when it comes to spelling and grammar.Because of the way these elements of education have been taught in our schools and the sloppy way we now speak and write, this is no surprise at all.But there is light at the end of the tunnel (well maybe a tiny glimmer). Very soon basic English will play a significant part in pupils' GCSE gradings.Nevertheless, until this new approach has time to trickle its way into the system we will still have our highly-qualified undergraduates being less competent in the use of their native tongue than the bulk of overseas students.A survey at Imperial College, London, showed that more than a quarter of British students did not know the difference between 'complementary' and 'complimentary' and more than half misspelt 'separate' as 'seperate'.None of the foreign students, for whom English is a second language, made these errors.And the issue of 'its' and 'it's', which seems to confuse most of the people most of the time, was less of a worry for the foreigners, 75 per cent of them getting it right compared with only 22 per cent of their British colleagues.So what's going to bring an end to this sorry situation? The Government no less.From 2009 pupils will be expected to use apostrophes, full stops, commas and inverted commas correctly for functional literacy tests. Grammar, punctuation and spelling will dominate the new tests for 16-year-olds, to run alongside GCSEs.Whitehall has agreed to bring in these tests in functional maths, English and information and communications technology, following complaints from employers and universities that while pupils can achieve high GCSE grades they cannot master the basics.Education Secretary Ruth Kelly promises that these tests must be passed in order for the pupil to gain at least a grade C in maths and English. And about time too. Complaints from employers and universities on this subject have been deafening for years.Cynics will dismiss this initiative as yet another attempt by the Government to bask in the glow of soon-to-be-forgotten publicity.But this is a major issue, and if the initiative works, we just may end up with young people, and adults, who can speak and write properly.Now that is a scenario to savour.