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Ofsted literacy drive

Our school, like most around the country, is having a bit of a literacy drive at the moment. Don't get me wrong; bad punctuation, poor grammar and dodgy spelling bring out the Victor Meldrew in me. There are times when I almost feel like a Telegraph reader when I encounter that misplaced apostrophe on the restaurant blackboard. (I have been known to point it out to waiters.)

We hear from the world of work that standards of literacy are falling and that even graduates cannot write in a coherent and accurate fashion. Ofsted have, no doubt, in their myriad inspections, observed inadequate literacy. Not surprising, therefore, that we are witnessing a focus on this area.

My colleague the other day reminded me, however, that there is a danger in getting too het up about this. Firstly, accuracy itself is less important than clear communication. Secondly, what do people actually write once they leave school and no longer have to write compositions, experiment write-ups, reports, punctuation exercises and sentences in a foreign language? Well, in many instances, once you have set aside that minority of people who, as part of their job, have to write reports, articles, minutes and the like, most people probably do the following: post messages on forums and social network sites, write lists, send emails and the very occasional letter and occasionally take notes. Many of these tasks are done on a computer with a grammar and spell-check system, so mastering spelling from memory, it could be argued, is less of a priority than it used to be. Further, handwriting is used relatively little these days once you leave the world of school with its exams and exercise books.

Now, as I said, I would not want to give the impression that literacy is not an issue, but let us not go down the road of lowering the marks of good scientists and technologists in their examinations because they mis-spell some words or forget full stops. Because this is where we might be leading. Let us be vigilant in every school subject about spelling, punctuation and grammar, but let us not leave in out wake dispirited, bright, creative youngsters who find it hard to write neatly and spell accurately. Some common sense is needed.

P.S. I spell-checked this post and found three typos. My wife has just found an error of repetition. (Now edited out.)


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"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

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We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

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