14/08/2014 12:49 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Why Can't Our Children Spell?

Why can't our children spell?

Remember weekly spelling tests at school? I was the kind of child who always got 10 out of 10 in the weekly test and can still remember my one failure.

That was the week the teacher decided to give us all an incentive: a Mars bar for any pupil with a perfect score. Having always been a girl motivated by chocolate I set to work researching all the likeliest traps: accommodation, because and definitely. All went according to plan until question 10: Chihuahua. Of course, the Mars bars went unclaimed and the bitter taste of betrayal lingered in the mouth for weeks. Although, on the positive side, I can still spell Chihuahua.

Thirty years on and the weekly spelling test is out of fashion in many primary schools. Parents are told that if their children are keen readers they'll pick up spelling 'in the end'.


In some schools, it has become the norm to correct only one in three of a child's spelling errors or a total of three mistakes per piece of work, in case it dents their self-confidence.


Phonics doesn't really help the situation, either. It's an incredible system for learning to read in the early years but it can't help children learn to spell some very common but irregular words like 'the' and 'said'.

All of which leaves us with a spelling problem. Secondary school teachers I know say it's quite common for an otherwise bright, articulate child to get to Year 8 still writing peapull instead of people.

A study by Oxford University Press found that many 11-14-year-olds struggled with the words definitely, accidentally and excitement.

So is it true that good readers become good spellers? No, say the experts. Reading and spelling are two different processes, says teacher Sue Smith, co-author of the book, 33 Ways to Help with Spelling.

Reading is decoding, spelling is encoding – and you have to be able to visualise a word before you can reproduce it.

That's the reason children who don't have a good visual memory are most likely to make up the 20VIRTUAL-Gallery-120691%