Initial Teaching Alphabet

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th March 1964.

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12.19 p.m.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

This is a sad occasion in as much as it is the last time that the Minister of Education will be addressing us in that capacity. It is very happy that his swansong is about education and not about the administration of education and that it is on the subject of learning to read which—I am tempted to go much further—is the most important foundation of the whole of our education and social structure.

My right hon. Friend has been, I think, an outstanding Minister of Education, and one of the ways in which he has been so outstanding is in making it quite clear where his heart lies and in which direction he wishes to channel the great gifts which he has had from a brilliant university record. He has rightly enjoyed a corresponding affection from, I believe, both sides of the House.

That channel has been the lower rungs, and in wishing him well in his move to his new responsibilities for the higher rungs, may we commend to him the London University Institute of Education and the National Foundation for Educational Research. In a Question the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. M. Rees) raised some very pertinent points. We may ask my right hon. Friend to bring to his new job a consideration of how exetremely fruitful, in this field of education, such a research can be.

In another way it is sad that Dr. Mont Follick is not alive to be with us today. If ever there were justification for Private Members' Bills and for the initiative of private Members in the House, it centres around him and what we discuss today. On 22nd August, 1945, within nine days of becoming a Member of Parliament, he had made his maiden speech on this subject. On 11th March, 1949, he introduced the first of his spelling Bills. On 6th March, 1952, he found it within the terms of order to discuss this subject in connection with the Navy Estimates. On 27th February, 1953, he introduced a Bill which was directed exactly and precisely to everything which has happened since then.

In addition, Parliament as a whole has played a very important part in what has been discovered. The status of a Member of Parliament is very important in this matter. This is a subject in which people either listen to and scoff or just scoff so much that they do not even listen. I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) for his help in eliminating the scatterbrain, wild-man idea on this subject which, had it continued, would have meant that the new medium was doomed to disaster. The honour of being a Member of Parliament has added that degree of respectability to the idea which was necessary to command attention and consideration and [n the end a willingness no longer to argue interminably but to make trial.

The House has in other respects, too, played a great part in what has come about. So have individuals. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) in his place for it allows me to draw attention to the individual effort and most valuable contribution of the Director of Education for Oldham, Mr. Maurice Harrison. Many people outside the House, including other directors of education, head teachers, class teachers and members of the inspectorate at the Ministry of Education, have all played an essential part. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) present; in his authority, in Staffordshire, and in Harrow, and in many other places people have played their parts as private individuals also.

May I show what has been achieved by this pioneering? In the first place, the initial teaching alphabet has become now sufficiently established that it is recognised that it is not fair on the really young child to confront him with the full difficulties of our traditional orthography, when he first goes to school. In consequence, the onus of proof has changed. It is no longer upon the hon. Member for Itchen and myself to show that it is better to have a new medium than to continue with the old medium for the beginning child. May I emphasise that it is not a new method of teaching; it is a new medium of teaching. Everything which has been good about teaching methods at any time continues to be good now. Indeed, it is better now, because there is no longer conflict between the look-and-say method and the phonic method. Each is stronger and each supplements the other.

In this, we have established that, unfortunately, three major millstones are placed around the neck of the child when he begins to learn to read. The first millstone concerns the variety of the word patterns which we require him to learn. Let us take the simple, indefinite article "A". At the beginning of the sentence it is like a wigwam with a lintel across the top. In the middle of a sentence the child has to cope with quite a different form, "a" something like a serpent with a very big tummy underneath.

Suddenly, however, when the teacher writes it on the board, or the child writes it in his own book, he is expected to write something like an "O" with a fishhook hanging down on the right-hand side namely, "a". There are thus three quite different forms and not one stable form. In every word in the English language the child is confronted with a different form for what in his own speech is only one form. I know only one word—and that is "O", and only then if we spell it without an "h"—in which there is not more than one form for every word.

I have looked carefully through Book I of a very popular beginning series. At that stage there are only 49 words. But it is peppered with changes in form. For instance, there are four forms for the word "and". Admittedly, one is the ampersand on the title page. There are two forms for the word "the", one at the beginning of the sentence and the other later in the sentence and so on, for many of these words, making them far more than 49 different visual patterns. The onus of proof surely is on those expert in education to justify why there should be such flagrant violation of one of the main teaching principles in any subject, particularly in a skill subject, such as reading. They need now to show why such fundamental teaching principles can be thus violated with impunity.

The second millstone round their little necks is that in so far as we have an alphabet—and are not as unfortunate as the Chinese—we need at the very outset to confront the child with up to six values for a single character. Let us take the letter "A" as we should normally describe it. In "canyon" it has one value; but we do not say "anny" and "many" but "any" and "many". In "pants" it represents the standard value but in "wants" another. In "Janet" it represents the standard sound but in "Jane" it has yet a third value. In "shall" it has the normal value but in "pall" it has another and fourth value. In "Halma" and "palm" it has yet another and fifth value additional to its most normal value. How should we manage teaching a small child mathematics if the figure 6 did not stand always for 6 but sometimes for 7, sometimes for 8, and possibly now and again for 3 and 1?

The third millstone is the number of variants which we have in our spelling. There are 22 or, if we count capital letters, over 100 spellings for the sound "ie" in "die" and in the book which I mentioned four of these different 22 spellings are presented to the child amongst the first 20 words which are brought in. There is a capital "I" for the "I" which the child has to read. There is the "i"—consonant—"e" of "ride". My is "my" but we spell "goodbye" with a final "e" and it is not long before "high" is introduced. Would numbers be very easy for the child if six were represented not only by "6" and "VI" but by 20 other symbols?

Of the 49 words in Book I, only 17 do not violate the two main principles of good teaching; 32 present great difficulty to the beginning child. Are we not entitled to ask those who would wish to confront the beginning child with these unnecessary difficulties to propound reasons why these difficulties should not be postponed and should not rather be presented only when the child has become proficient with the most simple—that is to say with only one form for each word, only one value for each character, and enough characters to represent the 40 sounds of English, so that all these three mill-stones may be removed? It is not only that the onus of proof has been reversed in respect of these three milestones, but that there is now a large amount of fact to support these a fortiori expectations.

There are, in particular, three apparent miracles. The first is that we have found that children do learn to read extraordinarily quickly. People did not believe it at the beginning, but it seems to be as easy as rolling off a log for the very young child who is sufficiently linguistic in speech. Very early in their school careers very young children thus derive real joy from reading.

The second apparent miracle is that the transition is literally a matter of minutes. Once they have learned to read fluently the children can put down an I.T.A. book and take up another book, printed in the ordinary way, and read it just as fast and with just as much comprehension. It may sound incredible, but those are the facts.

The third great apparent miracle is that the medium chosen is not dependent on the speech habits of any particular region. The spellings and alphabet have been tried in England, Scotland, and Wales, and in Ireland. It is now being tried with many young children in America and, if with small numbers, also in Canada and Australia. It amazes me every time I go into a school at, say, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to recognise with what perfect American accents these little six-year old children read their I.T.A. reading books, which, of course, children in Scotland and Wales read with a Scotch and Welsh accent; because, of course, they recognise from the print the words which they would use in their ordinary speech and thus give them all their own regional and indeed individual pronunciations.

These three a priori considerations and these three apparent miracles have combined to bring about certain facts. First, we have undoubtedly 200 per cent. better results in classes at the end of the two years of schooling. That is to say, at the end of the infants school and the beginning of the junior school. We have 61·4 per cent. of the original starters who get into the top two categories as distinct from only 20·5 in the control classes. That is a very big improvement—as much as 40 per cent. of those learning to read. If we compare it with the results in Kent, a corresponding figure of 75·8 per cent. for the I.T.A. in top three categories is matched by only 54·4 per cent., even in Kent an improvement of 21·4 per cent. There is thus a large proportion, some 21 per cent. of all the children beginning to learn, who are brought into the top three categories of reading ability. The improvement over Kent is even better than 21 per cent., because 30·4 per cent. of these little children and 57·6 per cent, of them had been in the top category of all and in the three top categories respectively, and thus reading fluently, for half a year before the end of that second year.

What is the meaning of these figures in terms of human lives? If we take 30 per cent. which is a good mean between 40 per cent. and 21 per cent., particular y when we know that the standards at any such stage are so much higher in comprehension, we find that it means hat out of 800,000 children a year beginning to learn to read, 240,000, nearly a quarter of a million, young children more every year will be able to get real joy from reading at least a year earlier and will proceed up the educational ladder with fluent reading and comprehension and considerable linguistic attainment. There are 6 million children in the English-speaking world which means that about 1,800,000 children every year will be enabled to go forward socially and educationally with this wonderful gift of communication. The remedial aspect is very important, too. It is very warming to the heart to go into a remedial teaching group. The lost sheep is very warming to the heart of the shepherd. Spread over the 10-year intake we have in this country about 2 million of our children in schools who will benefit, no doubt greatly, from remedial teaching in reading. That figure goes up probably to about 20 million for the English-speaking world. Here is a further field of magnificent promise.

I urge the Minister to ask his successor to go into the classrooms and have a look at these children both in initial teaching and in remedial classes. That is very much like asking the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—if there is some land which is starved of lime and phosphates—to go to see it where an experiment has been conducted, in which there are parallel pieces of ground, upon half of which the fertilisers have been applied and upon the adjoining ha lf have not. One has only to go into a class and look at the children to see the immense difference, and the reality of facts which appear so colourless when they are presented as figures.

Of course, the research is not yet completed and will not be until 1974 when the final intake has been through to puberty and all the final assessments of emotion and of other personal characteristics can be made. But the question arises: at what point does one accept the results of these researches and act upon them administratively? I urge the Minister to follow the good example of the 36 authorities which are accepting the facts as they see them in their own areas. They, after all, have the opportunity to see what has been done and have experienced the benefits to their children—and teachers.

Dr. Mont Follick had the foreigner in mind even more than the small English child. That is a further tremendously important point, the question of English as a foreign language. I hope that the Minister will urge upon his colleagues—I believe that, primarily, it is his responsibility—the need for something to happen about this at the Commonwealth Education Conference in Ottawa in August; and, also, he should enter into conversations with America, Ireland and South Africa, where the English language is as much indigenous as in Canada and Australia and where the teaching of English is also a practical problem. This urging of the Minister is to recognise that here is an issue of world leadership.

This is a medium, too, through which the deaf may be assisted. Already, in Oldham, most promising results are being achieved and there is a possibility of amending Braille to make easier the teaching of reading to the blind.

All this has, inevitably, in the circumstances, been done by private enterprise, not by Government. Ministers could not "go out on a limb" and be seen to be as "crackpot" as the hon. Member for Itchen and I have allowed ourselves to be considered. I have a copyright in this which I have given to the world as a whole, on condition that there shall be a standard which shall be conformed to both in the characters and in alphabet. Nothing could be worse for a child's education than that, if its parents moved to another area there were, to be found as in Heinz soups a different one of "57 different varieties" with which the child would suddenly have to familiarise himself. I suggest that here is a matter of national significance, and I urge the Minister to take up the point that a national and world convention is a matter for this country's Government, not for an individual.

My right hon. Friend should, I suggest, also deal with the Home Office in relation to prisons, borstals and remand homes where remedial teaching will prove most beneficial. The Colonial Office, the Commonwealth Office, and the British Council are interested in English as a second language. Even the Army is involved in respect of the Army's School of Preliminary Education. The Ministry of Labour, in retraining, ought to he involved. I urge the Minister with his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to consider, whether it is not right that some national machinery should be set up to take over, where private enterprise ought no longer be required to operate alone.

12.38 p.m.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The House has already warmly congratulated the hon. Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman) on his successful achievement. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to declare his indebtedness to those who have worked in the field—eminent phoneticians like Dr. Daniel Jones, and education administrators, like Sir Graham Savage, and Maurice Harrison, Director of Education at Oldham, who have played such a great part—and to those who have worked before him, men like his own grandfather and William Archer.

I wish to say a word or two about the principles behind what we are debating. One of the most important discoveries made by man was the alphabet. Man found that though he had learned to articulate many words they actually consisted of very few sounds. So he invented signs for the sounds and thereupon both reading and writing became easy. Once a person had mastered the handful of signs and could say a word he could write it, and as soon as he could read a word he could say it.

English is the richest language in the world. It has robbed other languages to create its enormous vocabulary of nearly half a million words. Its grammar has become, as we say, almost noiseless for inflectional endings have almost disappeared. It is the unique history of the British people which has done all this. That unique history, however, has also removed English spelling and the English alphabet miles away from that simple purpose of the alphabet which I have just mentioned.

I have no time to explain in detail why our spelling is so crazy, but I should like to make two important points. The conquest of the Anglo-Saxons by the Normans, on the one hand, and the fact that speech goes on changing while the printed word remains fixed account for the fact that much of the divergence between English spelling and English speech occurs not in the hard words, but in the easy ones—the words which the simple Saxons spoke and the equally simple Norman scribes tried to write down when they could not even say them. These words are so commonly used that they have changed constantly in pronunciation ion while the writing has remained fixed.

It is against that background that throughout the years reformers have been led to certain a priori conclusions, especially concerning children. One was that it seemed that if children were taught to read by means of an alphabet which conformed to the original purpose of all alphabets, and if they were not faced with all the difficulties and illogicalities of traditional spelling, a number of benefits might flow. First, and obviously, they might learn more easily and swiftly. I am not making a plea for easiness or laziness. Education is a tough process. I believe in hard work and discipline. But there is no virtue in mere difficulty as such. If, however, reading were easier to learn, the energy devoted to its former difficulties would be released to be used for something else. I hope to show later how this has been proved true by experimental research.

Moreover, some children find it difficult to get over the hurdle of learning to read at all. Some fail entirely. Certainly, many fail to achieve less than a com- potence, and fail to achieve that reading with the ease and fluency which will make them eager to continue to read after they have left school. Some of us therefore thought that if reading were made easier to learn, we might help many backward readers and even some of the hard core who at present leave school unable to read, a hart core, incidentally—the Minister and I are both proud of this—which is steadily being reduced each year by the skill of teachers.

There is a correlation—not absolute, but certainly present—between illiteracy and delinquency. Every educator will confirm that a child needs to succeed. Every good teacher sets a child a goal which is within his grasp. Failure is frustrating and frustration itself does immense harm to a child. If then we could remove the frustration caused by the complexities of our alphabet, we might solve the difficulty of some of our problem children.

Even accepting those arguments, however, we were worried about the problem of transition—whether a child, having been taught to read in an alphabet without pitfalls and irregularities, might be confused when he came to tackle traditional spelling. If this were true, then all the gains which I have just mentioned might late be thrown away at the transition stage and we should be back where we started. All this we had to investigate.

The signal contribution of the hon. Member for Bath was to devise what he called an augmented alphabet—one using all the letters of the present alphabet plus a number of created signs or sounds which could not be represented by the alphabet, so that each sign meant one sound and one sound meant one sign. When devising what is now called I.T.A.—the Initial Teaching Alphabet—he always h id in mind two goals—one making it easier for a child to learn to read, aid the other, once reading had been acquired, the inevitable transition from I.T.A. to the complexities of ordinary English spelling. This was ingeniously done in his alphabet although I have no time now to explain just how.

It is worth underlining what the hon. Member has just said, namely, that he generously gave this alphabet to the world—to the universities first—and, indeed, his only financial interest in the scheme has been purely negative. It has cost him money rather than made him money. That fact is worth emphasising and is a tribute to the selflessness of his labours.

Behind this research has been a vast labour of scholarship and scientific assessment, of gaining the support of the teaching profession, local education authorities and parents—not of the children, for they were enthusiastic from the start. It was necessary to convince local education authorities that this was not a gimmick or a stunt; to convince parents that they were risking nothing and that the basis of this experiment was sound; and to enlist the good will and co-operation of the skilled teachers in the infants' schools. All these things have been done.

I would here pay tribute to the local authorities of Oldham, Stoke, Walsall, Harrow and Burton, to mention just a few, for their fine co-operation, and especially to the primary teachers who have been the pivot of this experiment. It was necessary that we should not just launch the scheme haphazardly, with massive attempts by enthusiasists all over the country to teach children by I.T.A. The research had to be scientifically planned. Groups had to be matched, of children of similar abilities and similar circumstances, one to be taught using the new instrument and one with the old. Teachers had to be similarly matched, as far as possible, so that one was comparing like with like. If, as a television critic suggested last week, I.T.A. teachers were enthusiastic, so were those teachers of traditional orthography who were defending skills of which they were very proud indeed.

It would be foolish to say that we need I.T.A. because teachers have failed to teach reading. Everybody in this Chamber is living evidence of the fact that some years ago some skilled infants' teacher introduced us to the wonder of reading, in spite of the complexities. Year by year, even with traditional spelling, our triumphs over illiteracy increase. It would be foolish for the universities or for the Minister to attempt to dictate a method to teachers. This is no method. It is an instrument. Every successful infants' teacher is an eclectic. Any good infants' teacher selects her own method from the various schemes, takes bits of each and adds to them her own genius and personality. But whatever the teacher's method, this method can be applied to the new instrument, I.T.A., or to the old alphabet.

The experiment has now continued for three years. I should now like to give the bare facts of its results, as found statistically, by scientific method. Children make faster progress when taught to read by I.T.A. The transition presents no problem. Children who have learnt by I.T.A., when they move over to ordinary reading, show "very superior accuracy and comprehension and speed in reading." I would add, from my own observation and from reports from teachers and education officers, that the by-products of I.T.A. seem to be a release of energy and a hunger for reading. Children read many more books. They enjoy reading more; and already—and this is something we had not thought of before—they display an earlier creative activity in writing essays and the like.

Teachers who use I.T.A. are convinced that it does what we believed it would do. The best judges of any teaching experiment are the experienced teachers. From Walsall, we also have evidence of its beneficial effect in remedial teaching of children, to help older children of 12 and 13 who have failed to read at earlier ages.

The Minister was right last Thursday when he said that it would be wrong to claim too much from this limited experiment, but only prejudiced persons would now say that substantial evidence has not been produced of the supreme educational value of the initial teaching alphabet.

I congratulate the Minister on the support which he is now giving to the project. This, as has been said, is the right hon. Gentleman's last debate in his present responsibility. He and I have crossed swords frequently in the House, but he has from me, as from every hon. and right hon. Member, tremendous esteem and respect. I do not think that he is translated to a higher sphere when he goes to the university side of education. I believe that it is a great pity that he has left the schools of England for the universities, because, however noble the superstructure, it depends upon the work in our primary schools.

The right hon. Gentleman's contribution in that field has been outstanding. I think that when he looks back he that he helped, by official recognition, will remember with some satisfaction to give to primary education an instrument which may be of inestimable value in opening doors for some children to this great boon of reading, and which may for many more make the acquiring of this precious gift less irksome than it has been hitherto. There is nothing now to stop local education authorities, or interested teachers, from making full use of what research has shown can be of tremendous value in the teaching of reading.

12.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Bourne-Arton Mr Anthony Bourne-Arton , Darlington

It is a great privilege to be allowed to intervene briefly in this short debate on the 40 sounds of English and the 43 symbols, or "Faces of Jim". It is also a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), who has been associated so long and so tirelessly with my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman) in this great experiment.

I am sure that the controlled experiments of the last few years have given those who had faith in my hon. Friend the Member for Bath a taste of the substance of what they had hoped for, and I have no doubt that this initial training medium will spread throughout the English-speaking world. I certainly hope that it will be a subject very much to the fore in the forthcoming Common-wealth education conferences in August. I am sure that it will spread sooner or later, and I hope that it will be soon. I feel like the Yorkshireman who was taken to see Niagra Falls. When he was told by his proud host how many millions of gallons of water per second were going over the falls, he replied, "I can see nowt to stop it."

Assuming my belief to be well-founded, I should like to mention just two of the results as they appear to me, as one not privileged to have been involved for many years in this work as have my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Itchen. First, I think that this is a major break-through in the productivity of teaching. Productivity is a matter to which we all now give lip-service. If it be the case that in general terms the average child can save about a year in surmounting the hurdle of learning to read and in gaining access to the world of books and the knowledge and experience which that entails, this is equivalent to adding a year to the average child's school life.

When we remember that 6 million children in the English-speaking world are born and reared each year and that in rough terms the cost of a year's schooling is about £100, we are left with a crude estimate in hard cash of the value of this increased productivity at something like £600 million a year. Staggering, as this figure may be, I do not think that it is the most important result that will flow from this new medium.

The hon. Member for Itchen mentioned the effect which he believed this new system could have on delinquency. This, to me, is the most exciting and important result which I believe this method will have. It is roughly true that nine out of every 10 children who are delinquent or maladjusted or inadequate, call them what we will, either cannot or do not read. I can think of nothing more frustrating to a child than to spend 10 years of his school life failing to learn to read and failing to join his fellows in a literate world, in the realm of ideas and experience to which the written word is the key.

We know the effect on a left-handed child of being forced, as such children used to be forced, to use the right hand. We know that the frustration which this set up often resulted in such manifestations as stammering. How much greater the frustration of a child who, in the first two fears of his life, has accomplished the linguistic miracle of speech only to find that he fails in what should be the much simpler task of using the visual representations of speech.

These children enter adult life as children shut off in a literate world from their literate fellows, shut out from the experience of things which the written word brings, deprived not merely of access to great thoughts but, in a more mundane way, shut off from sharing vicariously in the lurid adventures of James Bond and of romance in all its forms, and living in a world with one dimension missing. They are thrown back on their own limited physical experience of life with results which are often crude and ugly and which are damaging to a community which should never have allowed them to be isolated. It is the effect which I believe this medium will have on these deprived and lonely members of society that I find most exciting.

The rescue which it will bring to them, these Cinderellas of society, will be seen in years to come as the biggest thing that has happened for generations. It seems to me that this Pitman reading medium will cut through a barrier. It will be a short-cut for most children, and for some of those now deprived of contact with the written word it will provide the only access to a fuller life.

The barrier of learning to read is like a dam across the stream of a child's life. Children surmount it slowly and with more or less difficulty before flowing on to the fertile plains of learning and experience. Behind this barrier is the pool of those who are still illiterate. This pool is far too large. It is a pool which spreads out into many creeks and marshes and some of it becomes stagnant and sour. The great achievement of my hon. Friend the Member for Bath is to have found a way of cutting through this barrier and letting first a trickle and then a flood of learning go bubbling and chuckling on its way to the rich life beyond.

Behind the barrier now cut through, instead of a swampy morass of illiterate frustration I believe that we shall see the sweet water-meadows of childhood. This at least is the vision, and seeing the substance now of the things for which we have hoped I pay tribute to the Minister, as have other speakers, for commending the further development of this method and for backing his commendation with hard cash.

Above all, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath who has pursued his object with great industry over long years, enduring many disappointments and ridicule—yes, much ridicule. Today, we salute him and those who have been associated with him. When he leaves this House, as, unhappily, he has decided to do at the end of this Parliament, he will leave in the result of his work a lasting mark on the history of the English-speaking world.

1.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Mapp Mr Charles Mapp , Oldham East

I align myself completely and enthusiastically with the references which have been made to the Minister. I do so without reservation. Equally, I pay my respects to the pioneers of this new form of teaching. I say at once that I was not numbered among these pioneers. Indeed, I was not converted until very recently.

My position is, I think, very much the same as that of the Minister himself in that I held quite a detached view about the new method. During the Christmas Recess, however, in a critical state of mind—I say that advisedly—I decided that I would make a full inquiry into what was happening in our Oldham schools. I went to the director of education and I told him of the programme which I wished to follow. I did not ask for the programme which he might have in mind for me.

Accordingly, I chose three schools to visit, one on a new housing estate, one in the centre of the town where conditions are not promising and where there is a backward class, and one in a residential area where there is quite a sprinkling of middle-class boys and girls.

I went, first, to the new school on the housing estate, a school of 240 pupils. I say at once that I found myself in the midst of dedicated teachers. I saw immediately their dedication and enthusiasm for the new method. It is fair to say, also, that they were teachers of probably above average standard, full of enthusiasm for their work. I decided which books I should like to see, which classrooms I wished to visit and which children I wanted to talk to, and during my visit to this school, I began to form very favourable impressions.

About midday, I went to the school in the middle of the town. What I say now is coloured by my experience as a father of three girls, now grown up, and as a juvenile court magistrate. I began to ask myself whether the impression which was constantly occurring to my mind about the children—emphasised at this school—could be right or not. I went to the backward class. I soon realised that there was something more in that class than just a new instru- ment for teaching. I had to admit that the boys and girls, at 7 and 8 years of age, were two or two-and-a-half years—not one year—in advance of where they would otherwise have been and where my own and other children were at a similar age.

Not only was this an educational achievement of the greatest importance. It was something else. My mind moved immediately to what happened in the courts. I thought of all the boys and girls of 12 to 16 who go out on to the streets, for lack of other things to occupy their minds, to get adventure and run into mischief. But these boys and girls to whom I was talking had new personalities. They were in command of themselves. They were two or three years in advance of the normal development of boys and girls of 7 and 8.

Later, I went to the third school. I should explain that at each school I questioned the teachers very closely to ascertain whether they had opposed the original idea, whether they were against it when it was first introduced, or whether they had welcomed it. It was very clear to me that at the third school the teachers had not been very happy about welcoming the new system and that it had been introduced, to some extent, against their will, or, perhaps I should say, they had not been so enthusiastic about it. However, at the time when I visited them, two or three years after the first introduction of the scheme, those teachers who had been a little un-enthusiastic or critical had become the hottest enthusiasts of the lot.

At the third school, I decided not to question the boys and girls so much but, rather, to look at their intelligence level tests. I asked to see the evidence on this side of the matter, and I found that the results were phenomenal.

I pay my respects now to the pioneers who have developed and put this idea across, to the two illustrious hon. Members of this House, in particular, and to all the others in the world of education. I say, also, that, had it not been for the backing of local education committees in Walsall and our other towns, we should not, perhaps, have been able so readily to record the progress which has been made.

In a personal sense, the examination I made of the backward class was very enlightening. No one who has for years been chairman of a juvenile court can dismiss the association between what happens in the backward classes of our schools and what happens in the courts. I tell the House frankly that, on my way home that evening, I thought what a golden opportunity it would be if, in a few years, I could have before me 10 boys and girls of 16 years of age for the purpose of recruitment to staff. If half of them had gone through schools with the new form of teaching and half had not, I am quite certain that I should, in the ordinary way, be able to detect the more developed personalities in the boys and girls who had experienced the new teaching method.

It is char to me that children who are taught by the new method, instead of having, to some extent, a vacant life, have the whole world of literature open to them, and this has an enormous influence. Instead of wanting always to be out in the fields or the streets, they know the joy of reading.

In conclusion, I have a request to put to the Minister. I have, of course, discussed with our local director of education how much financial sacrifice for a town like Oldham and, doubtless, other towns is involved in ushering in and continuing this experiment. Incidentally, 36 out of 38 schools in Oldham are in the experiment and Oldham is, perhaps, the town with the longest experience of it. Oldham has no difficulty whatever in being able to demonstrate the results. I was delighted to learn last week that the Minister has agreed to make a contribution of £4,000 in 1963–64 to the appropriate body and another £5,000 in 1964–65. However, I ask him to consider something else.

This request is in no way an indication that the local education authority is any less enthusiastic about going through with the experiment. Oldham will go through with it in any event, because it knows that it is well rewarding to the boys and girls. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the average official allowance per infant per year for stationery and books is 25s. 2d. We do not complain about this, but the appetite now created for books and for the continuance of the new scheme is such that, on a modest estimate, so the director of education tells me, the additional cost per new pupil—not per pupil per year—is about 30s.

We are approaching the time when we shall have almost 2,000 new scholars a year in Oldham. If Oldham were a rich authority in the southern part of the country, possibly I should not be raising this matter. I say immediately that we shall go on with this experiment. Indeed, to us, it is not now an experiment; it is an established fact. I ask the Minister to consider whether the recommendations which he has made might include consideration of the financial problems of the local authorities concerned.

1.10 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Eirene White Mrs Eirene White , Flintshire East

We are running a little late, partly due to circumstances not within our control, and, therefore, I will not say more than a few words. However, I should not like the debate to pass without something being said from this Box about how much we appreciate the work which has been done by the hon. Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), in supporting him, and about how much we welcome the support which the Minister has given.

I should like to echo what has been said about the Minister. While we are very happy that, owing to his personal qualities, he should have a seat in the Cabinet, it is a little unfortunate that it should coincide with his translation to the job of dealing with the universities, as it gives an impression that this is regarded as a more important matter than the schools. I am sure that none of us here today holds that view, and I am sure that the Minister does not. We all expect great things from him in his new capacity, and that in itself will be of help in other aspects of education.

It seems to me that the experiments so far carried out are extremely encouraging. However, it would be a great pity if we were to claim too much. To suggest that this alphabet will save a year's schooling is very dangerous, because, important though reading is, it is not the whole of education or development. I have been interested in reading articles which have been appearing in the Teacher pointing out that although this may be the best scheme so far devised for the purpose, there have been others.

There were experiments many years ago which were inspired by the grandfather of the hon. Member for Bath. Later, just about the beginning of the First World War, there was an outburst of interest in this matter. But, although the reports of those early days read in terms very similar to the terms of some of the reports which we are having now—for example, it was suggested that not only better study, but better conduct and better standards in all subjects could be achieved—these experiments came to an end. The important thing is that this experiment should not peter out as earlier experiments did.

While we wish to assess the experiments properly and to recognise that this is still a matter of investigation and research, we must ensure that the means are provided for the continuation of this work. It was particularly interesting to read in one article the suggestion that one of the reasons why previous experiments petered out was a lack of books on the reformed orthography. The hon. Member for Bath is a publisher and, therefore, he is able to help in this matter. I understand that other publishers also wish to take part. I hope that this time we shall not have a repetition of what has happened before, namely, that after a few years' enthusiasm, and after this generation of teachers has passed on, nothing more is heard of this matter. This time we have a far better chance than ever before, and I wish the experiements great success.

As a Welsh woman, I am interested in this matter. Although the Welsh language is daunting to the outsider, it is completely phonetic, with one exception; the letter Y can be used in two ways. Otherwise, all the Welsh orthography carries out the precise principles adopted by the hon. Member for Bath.

1.15 p.m.

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

I should like, first, to join in all that has been said in tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman) and to say what very special pleasure it gave me to answer Oral Questions Nos. 53 and 54 last Thursday.

I wish to emphasise what has been said very properly this morning by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), namely, that my hon. Friend has given this initial teaching alphabet to the world and that he has no financial interest in it—just the opposite. The warmth with which the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bath was greeted last Thursday was a very deserved tribute to what my hon. Friend has done.

I greatly welcome the fact that we have with us the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), whose borough has been in the van of this experiment. Listening to him, I could not help reflecting that it is, perhaps, only on occasions like this that we can get down to discussing education in the House.

I should like to say how much I agreed with the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) when she emphasised what is unique about the present experiment. My Department is making a grant to this experiment totalling £9,000 over two years as proof, not just of our interest, but of our desire that this experiment should be fully carried through to the end. The hon. Lady was right to emphasise that aspect.

It is my aim to sit down at half-past one, or very shortly thereafter, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I begin by saying a word about improvements which have been made in the standards of reading since the war. I deplore the recurrent tendency to speak as though illiteracy were on the increase in this country, as though spelling and reading standards had not improved and as though, in some sense, therefore, the money spent on the education service had not been yielding dividends. I am sure that no aspect of public expenditure has yielded greater dividends in terms of human welfare than the expenditure on education.

During the period from 1948 to 1956, there was an improvement in the ability of school children to read with understanding. This improvement was particularly marked in the primary schools, where the age group born in 1945 were, in 1956, on average, nine months more advanced than their predecessors, born in 1937, were in 1948. The corresponding increase at the secondary stage among boys and girls aged 15 was about five months.

To take the period 1948–1956, the proportion of really good readers in primary schools virtually doubled; it increased from 9 per cent. to 17 per cent. The proportion of children of 11 years in the two lowest categories—the illiterate and the semi-literate—shrank from 5 per cent. to 1 per cent. and the corresponding shrinkage at the age of 15 was from 6 per cent. to 4 per cent. Those figures come from a survey made at that time.

The next survey was made in 1961, as a part of the investigations of the Newsom Committee, and the result was a further success story. Fourteen-year-old pupils in secondary-modern schools had advanced by 17 months in the five years from 1956 to 1961.

The House may be interested to know that the Plowden Committee, which is looking into the primary schools, is planning to mount a similar study of the reading attainments of 11-year-old children. That inquiry will take place this summer and will report in two years' time, I have been in touch with the chairman of the Plowden Committee. Lady Plowden is very pleased that I should make this announcement to the House.

I want to return to the initial teaching alphabet and to deal with two issues: first, its efficiency as a medium or technique; and, secondly, to say something about its use. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath emphasised that this is not a new method of teaching reading. It is a new medium or a new technique. I told the House last Thursday that the initial teaching alphabet had been used with remarkable success in a number of schools during the early stages of learning. If the promise of the results obtained so far is fulfilled, I have no doubt that its use will spread and that its significance will become, more widely understood.

This is an alphabet, and its consistency makes it easier to recognise and use than the traditional one. My hon. Friend explained to us the difficulties of the traditional orthography for many boys and girls, such as the variations in the written and printed characters—as between upper case and lower case, letters, for instance—the inadequacy of an alphabet of 26 letters for the representation of some 40 speech sounds occurring in English, and, finally, and perhaps most important, the ambiguity with which letters are used to represent many different sounds.

There is no hint or sniff of what is sometimes called "spelling reform" in the initial teaching alphabet. It is intended as a teaching medium for use until children are able to read traditional orthography. In this alphabet my hon. Friend has used 24 of the 26 letters of the ordinary alphabet and has devised 20 additional characters to secure that each sound has one symbol to represent it. The characters in I.T.A. each stand for one sound only. But the alphabet is much less phonetic than other experimental alphabets, including experimental alphabets of the past, precisely because my hon. Friend is concerned to help children to read conventional spelling. I emphasise the point that the I.T.A. is devised specifically to minimise the difficulties about transferring to conventional spelling later.

We can surely see the a priori advantages of this for children coming to it fresh, without the barriers created for us by previously established word patterns and associations. There is much evidence, though I will not attempt to summarise it in detail, that most children learn to read it more quickly and transfer to traditional orthography easily and drop the I.T.A. when the time comes as readily as they learnt it. I think there may be every reason for expecting, on the basis of what we now know, that the I.T.A. will be invaluable for many children who would otherwise find learning to read very difficult.

There are two comments to be made on that subject. First, there is some good reason to think that it will be slow starters and average children who will benefit most from the I.T.A. Secondly, I emphasise to the House that, on all the evidence we now have, the anxieties which were felt earlier about transferring from the I.T.A. to reading and writing in traditional orthography seem to have been unnecessary. Children in general appear to transfer easily to traditional orthography and quickly from the I.T.A. symbols when the time comes. I.T.A. is a ladder or scaffolding on which they climb, but which they can easily dispense with and throw away later.

There are two cautionary remarks that I want to make at this point. First, there is what I mentioned last week, what is known as the Hawthorn effect, the motivation which is said to be produced in human beings by the knowledge that their work or behaviour is being studied in research. We must bear in mind the possibility that the Hawthorn effect has been at work here in this task I merely say that this point should be borne in mind.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would apply to the control group, which was under the same challenge?

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question. From what I have been able to see, there is some reason to believe—I should not want to make a positive statement—that it might be true that this does not apply so much in the case of the control group as in the case of the experimental group.

Secondly, we have as yet insufficient knowledge about the use of the I.T.A. for the ablest boys and girls. As yet we simply do not know as much as we might about that, partly because relatively few schools in the vanguard of general infant education are participating in the experiment. The objective tests so far used on a large scale have been more of single word recognition rather than comprehension. Also, we have not yet completed the experiments. Those are merely cautionary points which I make today as I made last week, and are not intended in any way to cast doubts on the remarkable results which have so far been achieved.

I want also to say something about the use made of this technique. We must remember that all educational media and all techniques are there to be used in the context of education as a whole. We have, first, to consider the following. Is it necessarily a good thing that boys and girls should learn to read earlier and earlier? About this one can say something on each side. Certainly, reading can open fresh worlds to children. I agree with all that has been said about the frustration of the boy or girl who can never easily learn to read.

At the same time, we must remember that there is another current trend in infant education, namely, towards using in school the materials and equipment of the outside world rather than purely what one might call didactic apparatus. This is not to contradict the value of the initial teaching alphabet, but is solely to point out that at any given moment there are a number of trends in education. Children need not only book learning, but also first-hand experience to give meaning to what they read.

There is another very important consideration. Communication takes place largely by means of words, but not only by means of words. Emotional development in young children is important as well as book learning.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

The question of the age at which reading is taught is a policy matter.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

In America it is 6; here it is 5. This medium is quite independent of that policy. All we would say is that when the child begins to be taught—whether it is at the age of 4, 5, 6 or 7—he should have early success and not frustration.

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

That is why I was making a distinction between technique and use. Because we have this technique, there may be a tendency to use it as a means of starting reading earlier. I was pointing out that that is something which should be considered on its own merits as an educational issue.

There is also the point that mechanical mastery of reading can run ahead of incentive to read. There would be danger if a child learnt to read very early and suffered disappointment and a slackening of interest as he got older.

The third point is that we want to make sure that those who learn to read more quickly not only read more effectively:it eight or nine, but are as competent in other fields as they are now. All these matters are not about the technique itself, but about the importance of using it seriously, bearing in mind that it has to fit in with all our educational discoveries and thought in other fields.

Photo of Mr Charles Mapp Mr Charles Mapp , Oldham East

On the point of the reading appetite, would the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that one of the problems of the Oldham local autho- rity is the obtaining of books to cope with the additional appetite which is being sustained after three or four years of experiment?

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

I accept that. However, I was thinking about an appreciably older age. We have been told that the experiments will not be completed until 1974. We must look at the effects over a wide period of a child's life.

As I said last week, I believe, on all the evidence that we now have, that this is an experiment of very great significance, which will become more and more widely appreciated as time goes by. At the same time, I myself have some doubts whether we shall ever reach a situation in which all teachers and all schools use this technique. It seems to me likely that there will be many first-class teachers who will continue to present techniques, however strong the evidence for the initial teaching alphabet remains at the end of the experimental period. I merely plead that we must avoid, it seems to me, two equal and opposite errors.

It would be wrong for a parent to feel that because of the discoveries made as a result of this new technique his child was not getting fair treatment because the I.T.A. was not used in its school. We are a very long way now from reaching an absolutely final conclusion, and I do not believe myself that it would ever be right to insist on total conformity in this matter. That is to say, I believe that there will always be teachers who will achieve success with the old orthography.

Equally, however, and just as important, I hope that we shall not be subjected to what I would call the militantly anti I.T.A. platform. That would be ridiculous. What I say now is offensive, and I am sorry that it is, but I say it deliberately. Those who remember the gyrations by one or two learned people—one, in particular—in order to discredit the discovery by Michael Ventris, who used to be in my Department and deciphered Linear B, gyrations attempting to prove that this was one more example of Piltdown Man, will realise that distressing things can happen when people take it into their heads to discredit a particular discovery. I hope that we shall discourage such gyrations in this case.

I should like to thank the House for the kind personal remarks to me this morning. I am especially pleased that the last speech made by somebody holding my present office and title should be made on a subject affecting the primary schools. If anyone feels that the primary schools are being in any way denigrated by the new arrangements all I can say is that I cannot believe that it can be in any way derogatory to the primary schools that as soon as we return from the Easter Recess Questions will be put on the Order Paper to the same Minister about I.T.A. as the one who answers Questions on research and science at the universities.

On the purely personal side, I would say that when I myself move to the other side of the new Department's work I shall regard it as my own chief job to ensure that this new federal Department is, indeed, a unity and realises its responsibility as one single Department covering the whole field. Finally, I should like simply to say how much I have enjoyed the debates during my time as Minister of Education, and to pay a sincere tribute to the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East and to her hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for the fact that, however sharp our controversies may have been, the usual channels—if I may so call them in this connection—have been completely unclogged during the whole of the last year and a half.