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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 16:48 GMT
Action over non-English spellings
science lab
Pupils can carry on using English spelling
The government has told school test officials to scrap their advice to pupils about using non-English spellings such as "fetus" and "sulfate" in national curriculum science tests.


Questions in the key stage 3 science tests will conform to international agreements on scientific nomenclature

Qualifications authority
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) had said next year's tests for 11 and 14 year olds in England would use internationally agreed scientific terms.

The authority said very few words were involved and no-one would be penalised for using English spellings - it was simply trying to ensure that students were familiar with the standardised terminology.


School pupils should use English spelling

Education minister Estelle Morris
But as criticism mounted, the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, told the authority to think again.

"School pupils should use English spelling," she said.

"I will be asking the QCA to intervene quickly."

The QCA responded that it had no plans to change the guidance, but added: "We will be making it clear to all concerned that pupils will not be penalised or disadvantaged in any way by using the standard English spelling of scientific terms in tests and examinations."

Earlier, a spokesman had defended the ruling.

"This is the way the scientific community is moving and it's important that what kids are taught is in line with what they will encounter especially if they pursue science to higher education and beyond," he said.

'Essential to agree'

He said the authority had drawn up its policy after consulting the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Biology.

The Royal Society of Chemistry said international agreement was "essential" for science.

"This ensures that scientists can communicate with each other clearly, and consistent nomenclature is increasingly important as scientific information is searched electronically," it said.

In 1990 the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry had recommended that the spelling of sulfur would use "f" instead of "ph" - and the spellings aluminium and caesium were recommended instead of aluminum and cesium, as used in the United States.

The guidance sent out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority merely reflected the recommendations of the Association for Science Education, the professional organisation for science teachers in the UK, it added.

'Unhelpful'

But the National Association for the Teaching of English was unimpressed by the QCA's argument.

"If pupils are bright enough to go on to higher education to study science they're bright enough to cope with mildly different spellings," said the association's development director, Trevor Millun.

The effort to help pupils could well do the opposite, he said.

"Those lower down the school who are not going on to higher education are going to 'standardise' on what is not an English spelling, which will do more harm than good."

'Goes too far'

The shadow education, secretary Theresa May, said the "ridiculous" ruling would lead to confusion among teachers and pupils.

The Plain English Campaign was not convinced of the need for change either.

A spokesman said: "For English schools, it does seem to be going too far - it's more appropriate for university students."

Judging by the reports of the academic committees on scientific terms, anyone studying science at university would have far more taxing problems to grapple with anyway.

Once students can happily differentiate between analogous isotopically modified compounds and are chanting the revised Hantzsch-Widman system of nomenclature for heteromonocycles, any worries about confusing sulphur and sulfur would be likely to fade away.

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See also:

27 Aug 00 | Education
Secondary school spells trouble
14 Dec 99 | Education
Poor writing worries inspectors
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