Ask any educationalist to identify the key problem in literacy and they'll tell soon you. Boys lag far behind girls, often by the equivalent of a year or more.
Ask any teacher how to motivate boys and quickly you'll find a common theme. Boys tend to thrive on competition.
Ask any child what they like about school and one salient point becomes obvious. Learning works best when it's fun, particularly before they reach their teens.
It's no surprise, then, that schools have flocked to our national spelling competition, The Times Spelling Bee, whose grand final takes place on Thursday.
It's aimed at boys and girls although it's interesting that last year's winning team, from Colchester Royal Grammar, were from a boys' school; at one point during last year's final, during a particularly competitive sudden death play-off, all seven contestants still standing were boys.
Around 1,200 schools signed up to enter this year. Schools taking part tend to hold heats among classes of pupils aged 11 and 12 to select their teams of four (three plus one stand-by), meaning that dozens of children will have tasted competitive spelling within each participating school.
More than 3,000 young people took part in online heats this year. Between them they attempted 22,904 words of which 18,203 were correctly spelt. Since its launch four years ago we reckon about 12,000 pupils have taken part.
I'm sometimes asked if getting children to spell tricky words in front of their classmates, and later on in front of rival school teams at regional heats, risks putting them off spelling by damaging their confidence, making this a negative experience.
Teachers tell us the opposite, that it generates excitement and encourages pupils to take an interest in the sound and structure of words. This sense of enthusiasm builds as the competition progresses. It's rather humbling to watch young people puff out their cheeks with nerves, furrow their brows in concentration and then punch the air in exhilaration as they spell a word correctly... more so when classmates clap them on the back in congratulation.
So why do we do it? We care passionately about educational standards and words are the key to independent learning and spelling is integral to strong literacy skills; but we also have a powerful vested interest. Sharing information, ideas and arguments is what we do, largely via the printed word.
Even as media publishing evolves spelling will remain crucial whether people read our journalism on a printed page, online or via a tablet device. We refer to our customers as 'readers' for a reason.
Teenagers or teachers who want to get a taste of our Spelling Bee and would rather not wait for next year's competition can get cracking on our online brain teasers on our Spelling Bee website.
Or you could try this now. Below are Britain's 20 most commonly misspelt words. Try them out on someone and see if we're right to be worried about spelling.
Most commonly misspelt words:fabricate, thwart, mooring, libel, bustle, sheathe, thief, snorkel, traipse, turbot, soprano, occult, glutton, concise, attuned, sleuth, haggard, laggard, swerve, shallot.
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