[See also ita interview, Journal articles about ita.]

The 50th anniversary of the Simplified Spelling Bill

Hansard record of the debate:
This 301Kb pdf file requires Adobe Acrobat Reader for access, available from.

SSS Letter to Charles Clarke, Minister of Education. February 2003.
Spelling and Parliament. Article in Spelling Progress Bulletin, Winter 1975.
History of SSS. SSS pamflet 11.

Article by Allan Campbell, SSS representative in New Zealand,
prepared for contact with the media on this occasion.

On 27 February 1953, the British House of Commons, by 65 votes to 53, passed the second reading of a private member's Spelling Reform Bill.

Fifty years on, there is little to show for that unusual and what could have been momentous event.

It was the second legislative attempt by the member for Loughborough, Dr Mont Follick, to bring English spelling up to date.

On March 11, 1949, he had presented his first bill. Part 1 asked for the establishment of a committee to produce a scheme for "the simplified and consistent spelling of English". Part 2 sought to have the new spelling used first in schools, then government publications, and later to be used generally. The Minister of Education at the time, George Tomlinson, was concerned about the welfare of children, and cautiously expressed the opinion that advocates of change should secure a reasonable measure of public support for the idea.

On the same day, the second reading of the Bill was debated for five hours and lost by three votes, 84 to 87.

In 1952 Dr Follick was again successful in the ballot for private members' bills, and brought his spelling bill forward again.

This time he asked the government to institute research into methods of improving the low standards of reading and to investigate, among other matters, the use of consistent spelling, even tho there might be a later transition to traditional spelling (TS).

On the second reading the bill was carried by 65 votes to 53. The debate was long, and included this from Ralph Morley, MP for Itchen: "As a class teacher for nearly 50 years, I know it is our ridiculous and illogical spelling which is the chief handicap in teaching children to read."

After the second reading the bill went to committee where it was again approved, in spite of Government opposition.

Three months later Dr Follick asked the Minister of Education if she "will state her policy towards proposals by a competent research organization to investigate possible improvements in the teaching of reading by means of simplified spelling." The minister, Florence Horsbrugh, said any such organization "could rely on my interest and goodwill for their proposals designed to investigate possible improvements in this field of education", but did not offer financial support.

The bill's sponsors realized that it was likely to meet strong opposition and it might be rejected by the House of Lords. They agreed to withdraw it, being happy to accept the minister's assurance of approval for properly controlled research into how upgraded spelling would affect learning to read.

John Downing was appointed to administer tests to initial teaching alfabet (ITA) and control groups.

The ITA experiment was started in 1961. After only a few weeks it was clear that ITA children could learn to read more quickly and better than the control groups using TS. It seemed also that reading skill acquired with consistent ITA could be transferred later to TS reading matter.

The most important result of the ITA experiment was to prove that TS is a handicap to children when they are learning to read.

So why was the ITA experiment discontinued?

There were many reasons:

Basically, ITA was a learning method, and was not intended as a new English spelling system.

But it demonstrated that learning to read English could be as easy as learning to read Italian, and this belief keeps the spelling simplification movement motivated to continue its campaign, in spite of little success to date.