[Simplified Spelling Society Pamphlet No. 7.]
On other pages part 2, part 3, part 4.

The best method of teaching children to read and write.

Reports of experiments conducted in sixteen schools.

Published on behalf of the Simplified Spelling Society
by Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd. London.
January 1942. First published October 1924


This pamphlet contains Reports from 16 Schools in England and Scotland of successful experiments in training young children to read and write in a simple phonetic orthography. In most of the experiments the system of spelling used was of a type similar to the New Spelling now (1942) recommended by the Simplified Spelling Society. [1] Equally successful results have also been attained with other phonetic systems, including systems embodying new letters. [2]

The success of an experiment of the kind depends, in very large measure, on the interest taken in it by the teacher, on his confidence in trying new methods, and, if he has not actually been trained in phonetics, on his possessing at least some phonetic sense. This, however, means no more than that the teacher must have qualifications, necessary under any method, if efficiency is to be attained. There have been instances, no doubt, in which experiments started in a particular school have been subsequently abandoned, because a new Head Master or Head Mistress disliked spelling which departs from the conventional, or had no belief in, or was disinclined to adopt methods other than those to which he or she had been accustomed, or because an enthusiastic teacher had been replaced by one unable, or unwilling, to follow unfamiliar ways; but we have no evidence of failure when the experiment has been fairly tried, and, if evidence of failure, not known to us, has been produced, we more than suspect that the failure is traceable to one or other of the causes mentioned.

The reports which follow show, as we believe, conclusively:-

(1) That children learn to read fluently matter in a simple phonetic spelling, and to write correctly according to the system, in the course of a few months;

(2) that, as a consistent spelling presents no bar to free expression, the original compositions of children who use a phonetic spelling are markedly superior in matter and manner to the compositions of children of the same age who use the traditional spelling;

(3) that, in reading aloud, the children who use a phonetic spelling acquire a clearer enunciation than children taught to read throughout in the current orthography;

(4) that, contrary to expectation, the transition from the Phonetic to the ordinary spelling is attended by no difficulty, and indeed, that children who pass from the former to the latter, acquire something like proficiency in the ordinary spelling sooner than children do who are familiar with no other;

(5) that the better mental discipline introduced into the reading and writing lesson leads to improved work in other subjects of the School course.

These experiments more than confirm the almost self-evident proposition that it takes longer to learn to read and write in an inconsistent than in a consistent orthography. They show that the new method has a value in education not possessed by the old; and further prove that against the clear gain there is no corresponding loss. The objection, for example, once common, that books in the old spelling would be practically inaccessible to children taught in a phonetic spelling has been completely falsified. Such children come to the books earlier than other children do, and enjoy them more.

In addition to the saving of time and the enhanced efficiency attained, we would emphasise the educational advantage which results from the substitution of a sound for an unsound mental discipline at the very beginning of the child's school life. With an inconsistent spelling the appeal must be almost throughout to memory, and to memory alone. The child must memorise the visual appearance of every word he meets; must carry in his mind a host of contradictory statements, seemingly irreconcilable, which the philologist can doubtless account for, but of which the explanation is probably outside the School teacher's knowledge, and certainly beyond the pupil's comprehension. With a simple phonetic orthography the appeal is to observation and reason first of all, and to memory only after the observed fact is understood. Further, it is no small advantage to the method we recommend that it fosters habits of independence and self-reliance in the child; that it sets before him tasks which, with guidance and encouragement, he can largely carry out for himself, and from which he can derive a fruitful pleasure in the discovery of powers that steadily increase as they are applied, and are subject to no unexpected and disappointing set-backs.



Reports of the working of the School were received in 1915 (1) from a member of the Simplified Spelling Society, who visited the School, Mr. Robert Jackson [3] and (2) from the Head Master, Mr. James Sword, and the Infant Mistress, Miss Margaret McConochie.

The first report is as follows: "A short time ago it was the good fortune of the writer to visit the Clepington School, and to observe the results of an interesting experiment that had been made in the Infant Department of the School.

"The subjects of the experiment, about a dozen in number, had not been specially selected; they had been taken at random from a group of incoming children at the beginning of the school year. For the first ten months of their school life they had been taught as a separate class in reading. They were given their lessons by the infant mistress herself, at the same periods as the other children of similar age who were taught on the usual 'Phonic' lines. Their textbook, however, was not an ordinary book set up in the conventional spelling, but a special book called 'Nerseri Rymz and Simpel Poëmz: A Ferst Reeder in Simplifyd Speling,' which had been supplemented by suitable extracts taken from the books in use in the school and printed on the black-board in Simplified Spelling.

"As far as possible, the Simplified Spelling section of the class had lessons of the same duration as the 'Phonic' section. An unusual amount of illness amongst both teachers and pupils interfered somewhat with the carrying out of this ideal, but, in spite of interruptions, the 'Ferst Reeder' with the supplementary blackboard work was overtaken in ten months. The Simplified Spelling section was then put to the ordinary Senior Infant work.

"The Head Mistress reports that 'at this stage the Simplified Spelling pupils were very apt at reading and spelling passages with fairly ambitious words, as long as they were printed in Simplified Spelling. So far as the pupils' experience went, each sound was represented by one symbol or group of symbols. There were no exceptions, and there was nothing to cause hesitancy. They knew nothing of the irregularities of the conventional spelling.'

"It was feared that much trouble would be experienced in acquiring familiarity with what is irregular and exceptional in the ordinary spelling; but it was found that the thorough training the Simplified Spelling pupils had received in the relations of sound and symbol made the 'transition' stage easier than had been expected.

"On the day of my visit the Head Master and the Infant Mistress brought together the subjects of experiment. At this time they had been fourteen months at School, during the first ten months of which their instruction in reading had been given, through Simplified Spelling. A book in the conventional spelling was put into their hands, and each child read a passage, after which he or she was given certain words to spell. No child was passed over in either reading or spelling.

"Next, about the same number of children, who had been nineteen months at School, and who had been taught in the usual way, were brought in and read the same passages from the same reading book, and were also given words to spell.

"On the whole, the reading of the two sections, as regards the naming of words, was very similar. Words of irregular spelling that gave trouble to the first section gave trouble to the second section also. The pupils who had had only four months' experience of the vagaries of the ordinary spelling were quite as good as those who had had nineteen months.

"Such difference between the two sets tested as revealed itself was found in the results of the speech-training. The pupils of the Simplified Spelling section had a freer, clearer, easier pronunciation, and a more distinct and clear-cut articulation, than those of the other section.

"To sum up: The Simplified Spelling pupils, taken at random from a group of new pupils, after ten months' instruction in Simplified Spelling and four months in the conventional spelling, could read the latter as well and spell as well as the pupils who had worked at it exclusively for nineteen months. The balance of advantage was altogether on the side of the children who had been taught on the new lines. They had had a better training in the relations of sound and symbol; they had acquired a better and a more natural utterance and expression, and had laid a more solid foundation for the subsequent cultivation of good, clear speech. This, too, under conditions which the Head Master and the Infant Mistress responsible for the experiment did not consider altogether favourable.

"Surely, in the results of this experiment, teachers will find matter for contemplation, and cause for encouragement to go and do likewise."

The report of the Head Master and Infant Mistress confirms the foregoing.

At the Annual Meeting of the Simplified Spelling Society in January, 1916, Miss McConochie read an interesting paper based on the experience she had gained by the Clepington Road School experiment. In the course of the paper she said:-

"It (Simplified Spelling) has certainly great possibilities and advantages. In the first place, the saving of time is very considerable. The pupils learn the short vowel sounds, the consonants, and the nine combinations of vowels which make up the sum of the long vowel sounds. That preliminary work completed, and the initial difficulty of putting the sounds together to form words overcome, the work proceeds smoothly. The pupils have absolute confidence in their symbols, and this faith is not disturbed by the unexpected appearance of exceptional words, multiplicity of symbols for one sound or of sounds for one symbol. There is increased fluency in reading, as there is no hesitancy, and it is found that quite ambitious words can be introduced into the reading lesson. The advantage resulting from this is that the child is enabled to possess an enlarged vocabulary, an aid to self-expression both orally and in writing. As teachers in elementary schools know, pupils from poorer homes come to school with a very limited vocabulary indeed; and much of that even may have to be un-learned. In fact, they have almost to learn a new language, and any method which is helpful in this matter is very valuable. The system also admits of more time being spent on drill in phonic work, resulting in greater purity of sound and clearness of articulation."


In this School the experiment was conducted by Mr. Robert Loggie, Head Master, and Miss J. D. Paten, Head Mistress of the Infants Department. A preliminary report was received in December, 1916, from which the following is an extract:-

"The experiment began at the end of August - the beginning of the School session. The first lessons were oral, but after a few days the blackboard was brought into use, and special wall sheets were prepared. The method followed was that of 'Examples of Syllable building' (pages 8 to 11 of 'A Ferst Reeder in Simplifyd Speling.').

"About the beginning of November, most of the letters being then known, books were given out. Our correspondent happened to visit the school on the day on which these were distributed, and was greatly struck by the enjoyable surprise with which the pupils - 56 in number - found themselves able to run down the columns on page 8.

"Another visit was made a fortnight later, when the class teacher printed one of the Nursery Rhymes - not one previously read - on the blackboard. The class translated the symbols into sounds and combined the sounds into words in a manner that showed the value of the logical training the consistent spelling had made possible. The work was done a little slowly, but there was no guessing and there was no blundering. Blundering, in fact, did not seem to be possible, so sure was the step with which each pupil moved from letter to letter, and from sound to sound, in the process of synthesis. The Head Mistress of the Infants Department, a lady of long experience, is well satisfied with the results so far as the experiment has gone.

"The Inspector for the district has given his cordial approval."

In June, 1917, the Head Mistress reported that, at the end of six months, children who had been in regular attendance were able to read in Simplified Spelling as difficult matter as is usually read by Pupils at the end of the Infant School course.

She reported also that children who returned to School after five or six weeks' absence - there had been an outbreak of measles - could take their part in class work almost as if they had not been absent at all. They had forgotten neither the symbols nor their values.

It would appear, therefore, from the present results, that the adoption of Simplified Spelling would lead, in reading and speech training, to a great saving of time in the first two years of school attendance.


Miss Edith Law and Miss Edith Luke, who carried on the experiment reported in 1917:-

"All the children, about 80 in number, beginning school life in August, were made the subject of an experiment in teaching reading on the principles embodied in the First Reader in Simplified Spelling. By the end of the month the children knew the sounds and their symbols, and were putting them together in simple words. Very soon these words were used in the formation of easy sentences, which were eagerly read by the children. The advantage of the method was very apparent at this stage, for instead of sentences such as, 'He is up,' 'Do I go so?' etc., the children were reading sentences which both interested and amused them, and at the same time afforded material for systematic speech training.

"At the end of six months the first Reader had been read, and the transition stage was entered upon. A simple Fairy Tale Reader was put into the children's hands, and the ease with which they sounded unfamiliar and unphonetically spelt words was astonishing. In previous years this book has not been attempted till the children have been eight or nine months at school.

"In teaching to read by this method, much of the drudgery and monotony of many of the pages of Infant Primers have been avoided. During the initial and most difficult stages of learning to read, each symbol has only one sound, and the children have nothing to worry and confuse them in the way of irritating exceptions, so that reading very soon becomes a real pleasure to them.

"During this period their vocabulary rapidly increases, owing to the abundant practice they have in reading practically all words within their power to understand. To this is due their greatly increased fluency and ease of utterance, when they reach the stage of reading ordinary English spelling."

Mr. Robert Jackson, of the Training College, Dundee, writing in 1918, on the experiment in this School, states:-

"The School authorities are delighted, enthusiastic, in fact, over the results of their six months' experiment. They have begun the transition stage, and to their surprise my prediction as to 'little trouble' is being verified."


Of this School, Mr. Robert Jackson, speaking at the University College Meeting, in 1918, said:-

"A few years ago an infant mistress in Fifeshire, after attending classes in phonetics organized by the St. Andrews Provincial Committee for the Training of Teachers, introduced the phonetic method into her classes, making use of a modified form of the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association. The result was eminently satisfactory. Within a comparatively short time the pupils learnt to read anything that described facts within their own experience, and to write and spell any such words as come within their natural diction with almost perfect accuracy. Facility in learning to read was accompanied by a very marked improvement in their speech. Miss McCullam, the teacher responsible, still uses a phonetic method, but has altered the values of the letters to lighten the pupils' work in the transition stage."

Of the experiments in Dundee, Mr. Jackson said:-

"During recent years there have been three experiments carried on in Dundee schools. The first was made in Clepington School. It was described pretty fully in The Pioneer, of August, 1915. The results might be summed up as follows. Pupils who had been taught by means of Simplified Spelling for ten months, and had then learnt the conventional spelling for four months - fourteen months in all - could read as well and spell as well as pupils who had been at school for nineteen months and had been taught exclusively the conventional spelling. The balance of difference was altogether on the side of the pupils who had been taught on the new lines. They had acquired a better and more natural utterance and expression, and had laid a more solid foundation for the subsequent cultivation of good, clear speech. Untoward circumstances prevented the continuance of the experiments beyond one year; but a few months ago the Simplified Spelling method was reintroduced, with results that are giving full satisfaction."

Summarising the results of the Scottish experiments, Mr. Jackson remarked:

"The results of the experiments in the four schools - Lumphnnans (Fifeshire), Clepington, Dens Road, and Morgan Academy (Dundee) - prove that the forty forms that represent the forty sounds of English speech can be mastered in a few weeks, and that thereafter only a little practice is needed until the pupil can decipher any word whatever that forms part of his daily diction, or that, keeping in mind the stage of his mental growth, can legitimately be introduced in teaching.

"But the question may be asked - in fact, always is asked - What of the transition to the ordinary spelling? In not one of these schools has the transition given anything like the trouble that was anticipated. I recently visited the Dens Road class, now in the transition stage. I heard the class do a bit of unseen reading from a book in the ordinary spelling. The fruits of the consistent training in the relation of sound and symbol showed themselves in the grip and intelligence and readiness with which the pupils read the 'nomic' forms, which of course, to them were new. The combination of stress and intonation, and the ease of utterance, proved that the naming of the words was real pleasurable reading, and that the meaning was being caught as the words were uttered.

"I also recently spent an afternoon with the class in Clepington School in which are the subjects of the Simplified Spelling experiments of 1915. It is now two years and a half since they laid aside the Ferst Reeder. The two sections of the class were tested in the Sekond Reeder, just published, and new to all of them, and in the class reading book. The pupils who began on the Simplified Spelling method are still ahead of the other pupils in ease of utterance, and in the superior purity of their vowel sounds. The foundations of good speech have been laid firm and sure. No difference revealed itself in the spelling of the two sections.

"My experience gives me confidence in claiming that the use of Simplified Spelling, or any form of consistent spelling throughout the school course, would save a whole year of the child's school life; would help the training of the ear, eye, and speech organs; would give increased facilities for the cultivation of self-expression and thought development, and would permit language teaching generally to be conducted in accordance with the laws of mind growth to a degree absolutely impossible with the present spelling."


 [1] It differed from this in the following respects: ai, y, eu and er were written for ae, io, ue and ur respectively, final y was written i, oo was used for the long uu as well as for the short oo, and in some of the experiments th was written for dh.

 [2] See, for instance, R. Jackson, Phonetics and Phonetic Texts in the Teaching of Reading, in Miscellanea Phonetica published by the International Phonetic Association (1914).

 [3] The late Mr. Robert Jackson, who was at the time Lecturer in Phonetics at the Training College, Dundee.

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