IF YOU want your child to improve their vocabulary and general conversational skills, thereby preparing them for the brightest possible future, then there is simply no substitute to reading.

A report published this week indicated that, when going for a job interview, it is the ability to engage the receptionist with small talk, rather than the contents of your CV, that truly makes the difference.

At St John’s we realise how important reading is.
• We have a dedicated reading slot four days out of five, incorporating the Accelerated Reading Scheme, from Reception to Year 8.
• We have regular visits from Book Fairs (or should that be ‘Fayres’? See the blog below!)
• We celebrate World Book Day and children can dress up as their favourite literary character. (We have vouchers to give each child to spend between 29th February and 27th March to celebrate this.)

With this focus on literacy in mind, our Head of English Mr Downie writes:

“Scene one, scene them all.”

That one sentence was the straw that broke the camel’s back and was the catalyst to writing this article.

The fact that it was on the BBC news website only served to further fuel my anger. It wasn’t a clever play on words about a film or play. The headline was atop a story about eyesight and, after going round the houses and trying to find a possible excuse on their behalf, I admitted defeat and my heart sank.

As always.

Quite why I let other people’s spelling or grammatical mistakes annoy me so much has annoyed me in equal measure over the years.*

Yes, it’s always been my ‘job’; from English studies at University to newspaper editing and now teaching, I’ve clearly had more than a passing interest in the correct and proper use of our language.

But (and no, it’s never ok to start a sentence in this way) people always have, and always will, make mistakes. I know that.

So why does reading “chip’s and pizza’s” on takeaway flyers cause me to throw the offending items straight in the bin (whilst muttering something about never visiting said establishment, no matter how hungry for a single-chip-in-possession-of-nothing I might be)?

The fact remains that my brain has decided that because the owners mis-use apostrophes this will also mean that they will have suspect hygiene policies.

Just as when I used to sift through CVs from young hopefuls looking for employment as a ‘journolist’ or who listed their ‘passtimes’…. I interrupt my own thoughts because, as I’m writing this, my automatic spellcheck attempted to correct both of those mistakes.

Therefore the numerous candidates who’s / whose (didn’t correct that one did it? Stupid spellchecker) hand-written CVs in 2005 ended up ripped in half, may actually have landed an interview today thanks to their helpful computer.

And (don’t even get me started on people who start sentences in this way) herein lies the flawed thinking that resulted in a leading educationalist recently claiming that it “…. didn’t really matter about the spelling or grammar within a piece of writing as long as the content was understood….”

And (shhh….) of course this is a fair point when the word is spoken.

But (shoot me…) when it’s in written form? What a terrible sentiment.

Do these educationalists honestly want our children to leave school without knowing the difference between there, their and they’re? A spellcheck won’t sort those out for you.

At St John’s I ask children to learn the meanings of the words in their spelling tests, as well as how to spell them – not to be mean and make their tests harder; I simply want them to learn what they mean so that they can use them to make their creative writing better.

If you want to be better at sport, you need to practice / practise (oh come on!). If you want to be better at writing, you need to read – preferably out loud to someone else and discussing the book once finished.

In recent years at St John’s, we have noticed an increasing trend of a gap between a child’s reading ability and their comprehension and our Learning Support department are ably equipped to assist our English team. We use the Accelerated Reading Programme, allowing our children to read, prove their understanding of the text and then progressively move up to a new reading level.

One of the principle / principal (this spellchecker really is pointless) aims of our English department is for every child to develop a unique writing ‘voice’ by the time they leave us after Year 8. I quiz our senior pupils daily on the merits of alliteration, personification and the rule of three; last week I encouraged Year 7 to spot spelling mistakes when they go shopping; Year 6 are currently looking at the nuances of different dialects.

In short, English can be fun. But it should always be write……

*They have a word in the Finnish language for people like me. ‘Pilkunnussija!’ they would shout after me in the streets of Helsinki. The fact we don’t have a specific word in the English obviously annoys me greatly.