BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Education
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Hot Topics 
UK Systems 
League Tables 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Sunday, 27 August, 2000, 02:06 GMT 03:06 UK
Secondary school spells trouble
science lesson
But can they spell "pipette"?
Many of the pupils entering secondary schools in England cannot spell the word "secondary".

Schools were asked to submit lists of words which commonly caused pupils difficulty to the Department for Education's standards unit, which has drawn up a draft framework for teaching English in the first three years.

girls doing PE
PE teachers will encourage limbering up in language too
The framework says all teachers need to be responsible for improving pupils' spelling of words used in their subject areas, from maths to art and PE.

No longer will the responsibility for ensuring that children can spell properly - or the blame for their failure to do so - fall on the English department.

Other words 11 year olds apparently find difficult include "daughter", "health" and "chocolate", "Wednesday" and "Saturday" - as well as the old favourites "embarrassment" and "accommodation".

Then there are those which are commonly confused, such as "advise/advice", "affect/effect", "allowed/aloud", "braking/breaking", "practise/practice" and "source/sauce".

Need to know

One reason for rowdiness in class might be that some pupils do not know the difference between "quiet" and "quite".

Specialist departments, now charged with helping in the drive to improve spelling standards, have submitted lists of words which children routinely need - and which some routinely get wrong.

It is in acts of reading and writing that meanings are forged, refined and fixed

Standards unit
In science, for instance, "evaporation", and "dissolve" cause problems for children in the lab (they cannot manage "laboratory").

They are unlikely to get "temperature" right - which is perhaps not surprising given that "thermometer" is also beyond many.

In maths, as if the concepts and numbers were not trouble enough there are traps in the language related to them, such as "equilateral", "isosceles", "parallelogram" and "quadrilateral".

Body parts

In history "chronology" is a problem - which might be why timelines have become so popular in recent years.

hammer on anvil
Design and technology will be forging new word skills
In geography lessons, "abroad" mystifies some pupils - probably the ones who cannot manage "globe" or "atlas".

Physical education is in a "league" of its own, what with "biceps", "triceps" and "quadriceps".

Drama's requirements include "playwright". Children should not feel too confident if they can "freeze" successfully because over in the art room they also need to spell "frieze".

Students whose heads are spinning can always seek some peace in the library, among the "dictionary", "encyclopaedia" and "thesaurus".

"Language is the principal medium of learning in school, and every teacher needs to cultivate it as the tool for learning in their subject," the framework document says.

Learning through language

All teachers have "a genuine stake" in encouraging strong language skills among pupils because "language enables thought", it says.

"Language goes beyond just 'writing up' what is learnt and 'looking up' information in a text; it is in acts of reading and writing that meanings are forged, refined and fixed.

"Finding the right words, giving shape to an idea, articulating what is meant: this is where language is synonymous with learning."

A pupil writing a history essay should use skills learnt in English and practised in other subjects such as RE.

"The challenge is to ensure the transfer of skills from one lesson to another by making literacy skills part of the explicit teaching agenda in all lessons, and to maintain high and consistent expectations across the curriculum."

  • Any errors in this artical are the editor's responsibility.
  • Search BBC News Online

    Advanced search options
    Launch console
    See also:

    02 Aug 00 | Education
    Pupils rise to writing challenge
    23 Jul 00 | Education
    Doubts over children's writing test
    14 Dec 99 | Education
    Poor writing worries inspectors
    Internet links:

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

    Links to more Education stories are at the foot of the page.

    E-mail this story to a friend

    Links to more Education stories