Read in order to live

One of my (many!) weaknesses is that I am a very pernickety linguist, finding it hard to resist interfering when I spot linguistic imperfections or when exacting standards of detail are not met! Viewed differently and charitably, I hope that others perceive this as reflecting high expectations of literacy and a meticulous nature!

I do believe that as a school educating young people we should certainly aspire to high standards of English in all our communications – although I understand that some of the subtleties of grammatical rules may be easier for me to grasp as a linguist. I also benefited from a traditional training in literacy, devoid of text-speak. I am sometimes tempted to take out a board marker to correct errors in public notices, but literary vandalism would probably not justify such defacement. I was horrified to discover when I first arrived at my last school that the sign on my door read: Headmasters office – with not an apostrophe in sight! My very first ‘change’ was to replace it – hardly radical, but it spared me nightmares.

Earlier this month, it was reported in the media that the University of Hull believed that requiring good written and spoken English could be seen as "elite". The university said it was committed to "removing barriers to learning" for students of all backgrounds and that marking students down for poor spelling, grammar and punctuation in exams could be seen as "homogenous, North European, white, male, and elite".

The Government’s Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, told the House of Commons:

"I am appalled by the decision of some universities to drop literacy standards in assessments. I think that this is misguided, and, in fact, it is dumbing down standards. That will never help disadvantaged students. Instead, the answer is to lift up standards and provide high quality education."

Mastery of the English language and high standards of literacy form an intrinsic part of education. Some children have to work much harder than others over this, and it can represent a significant challenge for those who are dyslexic. It is therefore important that we lend appropriate support as we aspire to those high standards and that the learning of languages is made accessible to all.

Although I have always been a relatively slow reader, I thoroughly enjoy a good book and loved studying literature. Apart from reading before lights out, I look forward nowadays to stepping into the car for my journey home and my latest Audible listen. Children who read naturally nurture their imaginations, extend their vocabulary and improve their understanding and use of our language – a language which is gloriously rich. I was encouraged yesterday to read the National Literacy Trust had found that the proportion of children who read for pleasure increased last year for the first time since 2016. We also know that the sale of books and audiobooks enjoyed a resurgence during lockdown.

Long live the book – be it paper or electronic!

Best wishes,

John Watson