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Does proper spelling really matter these days? As The Last Word found out, it all depends on who you talk to.

For new governors, schools can be bewildering places. Indeed their role itself can seem confusing. What exactly are they for? One agreed role they have is to reflect into the school a lay perspective on issues that are of major concern to the outside world.

One issue that could scarcely be more important yet seems so simple to the outside world is spelling.

In my new role as literacy governor (and frankly somewhat appalled by some of the spelling in the school) I decided to do some research into what the staff think about spelling. Here is my report to be presented to the Curriculum Committee of the governing body.

I began my research with what seemed to me the obvious first stop - the head of English. What, I enquired, was he doing about spelling.

"Well," he replied, "You may not know this but there are 44 sounds in the English language although cockneys have 45. The glottal stop is not just laziness. In the north they have 43. But there are many ways of spelling the same sound. Take 'ee' it can be a double-e, e-a, i-e and? well there's about ten.

"Spelling correctly is a very modern idea. You will find words that Dickens spells differently and of course it is well know that Shakespeare himself spelt his own name in four different ways. English is formed from many languages and spelling reflects that. In the end there is only about 5 per cent of marks for spelling anyway."

As he paused for breath, I asked him about some of the incorrect spellings on the wall. "Yes that is a bit unfortunate, as today is Open Day. They are supposed to use a dictionary. Is 'd-e-f-i-n-a-t-e' wrong, in fact? We do like the work to be authentic."

Thinking a key stage 3 English teacher would be more relevant, I asked her opinion. "I always tell them - just don't use the apostrophe at all. That way you make fewer mistakes and people often don't notice it's missing. Of course George Bernard Shaw never used them. We do have that Lynn Truss book in the library but frankly I think she's a bit obsessive. Hey, why don't you ask Media Studies what they think. Ha ha!"

I set off to ask the headteacher and on my way encountered the catering assistant writing up the menus. As I read the list over his shoulder, I noticed 'ham role'.

"Bit of a dramatic lunch," I volunteered by way of introduction. "Look I'm sick of this - why don't you do it," was his reply, thrusting the felt tip at me.

Anxious to fit in, I had a look at what was on offer: 'Chicken a la Jamie', 'Potatoe's Dolphinois', 'Cr?eme Brulay'. I must say it had never struck me before how many food words are French.

At this point the head of maths intervened to make the point that his department keep a dictionary in every maths room and it's no surprise that the art of crossword solving has been declining since they stopped teaching classics.

To be frank, colleagues, I felt I needed advice from the top and, though the head is not here today, I was able to catch him on his mobile. His view was clear: "Very important?hardspell?phonics?keywords?regular homework? whole school policy," is how he put it, though it was Open Day and he may have thought I was a prospective parent.

Of course, many children do spell quite well and it may be only a minority who have difficulty. I did seek the views of the SENCO but she pointed out she was on her lunch break and that she is doing her best.

She was sitting with several teaching assistants and I fell into a long conversation with one who has worked in the school for quite a while.

"It's all this texting," she said. "Take my daughter she's never done with texting. The money she spends on that phone. And still she never lets me know if she's going to be late. I'm forever wher R U? And it's always me who has to go and pick her up. Oh excuse me, that's my ringtone."

Finally I approached that point which interfaces with the outside world - the Careers Department. I have to say I was impressed by the welcoming atmosphere and the care with which the head of careers answered my question.

"Use the spell checker; read it through carefully; ask a sensible adult - your mum, a teacher, me - to read it through as well. Keep a copy. Make a list of words you got wrong or find difficult in your planner or on a sheet of paper stuck to the wall.

"And remember it's not the key to happiness or a long life. Just one of the many things people will use to make judgements about you."

Duz speling reely matur?

I hope this has been useful in clarifying how the school is dealing with this important matter.

By Miriam Meanwell, Literacy Governor at Composite Comprehensive School, Middle England

The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you would like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk We do offer a modest honorarium.

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