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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 16:13 GMT
Children's spelling difficulties
boy taking test
Boys did just as well as girls
Almost a third of 11 year olds in England who were asked to spell the word "difficult" found it - well, too difficult.

And four out of five of those who had to spell 20 words as part of last year's national curriculum English tests could not manage "environment", "necessary" or "extremely".

Click here for the list of words

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which oversees the tests sat by some 600,000 pupils in their final year at primary school, says most problems were caused by words "where the letter patterns have to be remembered".

The children did better where the spelling more closely followed the sound of the word.

Ministers worried

Overall literacy standards continued to improve, with 75% of pupils achieving the standard expected for their age - a trend ministers attribute to the introduction of the daily literacy hour in 1998.

But the fact that so many were unable to spell basic words underlines the concern of the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, that there is a need for a greater emphasis on basic skills in the early years of secondary school.

Last year secondary schools were asked by the Department for Education's standards unit to submit lists of words which commonly caused their new pupils difficulty - which revealed that many could not even spell the word "secondary".

Mr Blunkett is introducing new numeracy and literacy schemes for 11 to 14 year olds from this September.

To support the drive, optional tests have been devised by the QCA for use this spring.

Boys doing better

One brighter note in the QCA report is that boys' spelling last year had improved relative to girls' to the point where there was little between them.

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said the results could be better but the trend showed children's spelling was getting better.

"I don't think we ought to get too hot under the collar - my hunch is that if we had taken a raincheck on spelling two or three years back we would have seen even worse results," he said.

The list below shows the words in last year's 10-minute spelling test, and the percentage of pupils who got them wrong.

word %
environment 82
necessary 82
extremely 80
pollution 62
pierce 59
structures 50
passenger 44
expensive 41
century 40
preserve 40
gleaming 38
generation 37
foundations 33
difficult 32
importantly 29
complete 28
castles 25
weight 25
climbing 21
first 8

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