Published on: 01 Dec 2017

While some may question such a strong focus on spelling in the National Curriculum, a child who is a good speller will be a more confident writer and will be able to express themselves better in all of their subjects.

Why do we all need to spell the same way?

By Lucy Hadfield, Associate Publisher, GL Assessment

With our ever increasing reliance on technology and, as a result, spellchecker and autocorrect, it can be easy to forget the significance of knowing how to spell a word correctly, and some even question if spelling is a skill we need to devote as much time to teaching any more.

The reality is that spelling is a key focus of the 2014 National Curriculum in England, with a list of statutory and non-statutory requirements for all primary year groups and specific word lists for Years 3-6. With 20 out of a possible 70 marks being awarded for spelling in the Year 6 SATs in 2017 and 20% of the new English Language GCSE marks being allocated to spelling, punctuation and grammar, spelling is clearly a topic that cannot be ignored.

Poor spelling can cause confusion and may lead to a misunderstanding of the intended word. If a word is spelled correctly, its meaning is clear and there is no need to decode what the writer’s intentions were. Good spelling skills also help to show an understanding of the definition of a word and often, if a child has fully understood how to spell a word and the spelling rules that apply to it, they are then able to spell other words with the same rule.  For example, understanding how to spell the word ‘autumn’ and the ‘au’ sound and spelling rule within it, means that spelling another word beginning with ‘au’ such as ‘author’ should be easier.

The New Group Spelling Test (NGST), our brand new, digital spelling test, is aligned to the 2014 National Curriculum and is suitable for Years 2-9+. NGST is fully adaptive which means that each pupil’s performance is assessed as they complete the test and the questions are adapted to be in line with the ability they demonstrate. This is a benefit, particularly to pupils with a low spelling attainment as they can be tested with words that are less challenging than that determined by age, and for students with a high spelling attainment as they can be tested with words that better reflect their spelling ability.

We worked closely with Educational Consultant Abi Steel to develop the content which is made up of a single word section followed by a spelling in context section. We were careful to trial the content all across the UK, to include a variety of words which aligned to the requirements of the new curriculum in England as well as being relevant across the UK, and also a range of interesting words to test the breadth of a student’s vocabulary.

Exposure to certain words has a huge impact on whether you can spell them or not. When we trialled the content for the New Group Spelling Test there were some unexpected results. Some words had a particularly strong gender bias and as a result could not be included in the final test. 

To take one example, the word ‘contour’ was spelled correctly by 20% more girls than boys and had to be removed from the test. ‘Contour’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘an outline representing or bounding the shape or form of something’; a term many of us would associate with geography. However, contouring is also a make-up technique which has become increasingly popular in recent years and is defined by Teen Vogue as the technique of ‘giving shape to an area of the face and enhancing the facial structure through makeup’.

The word ‘collage’ also had a strong gender bias and had to be removed as 27% more girls than boys spelled it correctly, and the word ‘soldier’ was not included in the test as 10% more boys than girls spelled it correctly. These findings emphasise how important it is to trial new content in schools so that we can be sure that all of the words included in NGST make up an overall fair test which allows all pupils to have an equal chance to show what they have learnt.

While some may question such a strong focus on spelling in the National Curriculum, a child who is a good speller will be a more confident writer and will be able to express themselves better in all of their subjects.  

Read more about the New Group Spelling Test in our case study with St Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Stoke-on-Trent.