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Plain English campaign news articles

Plain English Campaign slams EU over 'unreadable' treaty

Giuliano Amato, the former Italian Prime Minister, claims the new European Union treaty is deliberately 'unreadable'. The lack of clarity from the drafters is such that 'any Prime Minister - imagine the UK Prime Minister - can go to the Commons and say look, you see, it's absolutely unreadable, it's the typical Brussels treaty, nothing new, no need for a referendum'.

Plain English Campaign condemns this as an act of deception by the EU.

Press Officer Steve Jenner says "Drafters of the Treaty have a real position of power. Mr. Amato was vice-president of the body that drafted the original Constitution so he knows about this. This is a damning verdict on the new EU Treaty and the intentions of the people who produced it". "It is another example of language being used to confuse an important issue. Plain language is essential if we are to have true democracy."

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague highlighted Amato's comments during a recent speech at the centre for policy studies. But Foreign Secretary David Miliband, speaking at the Labour Party conference, is adamant. He insists the treaty does not contain the kind of changes which would require a national vote.

The revelations come just months after PEC director Chrissie Maher congratulated Angela Merkel for writing the EU's 50th birthday statement in plain language.

PEC rues departure of English football's 'finest orator'

Language group Plain English Campaign says it hopes to see Jose Mourinho’s swift return to football following his departure from Chelsea Football Club. Mourinho, who refers to himself as ‘The Special One’, is well known for his love of using strange and overextended metaphors during press conferences. He is already in the hat for the campaign’s annual ‘Foot in Mouth’ award as a result of his ‘omelettes and eggs’ comments earlier this week (see below).

“Not since Eric Cantona has a footballing figure had so unique an approach to the English language.” said a Campaign spokesman. “Jose Mourinho is possibly the finest orator the English game has seen since Eric Cantona, and will be sorely missed.”

Last year, Plain English Campaign supporters voted Bill Shankly’s famous ‘life and death’ line the best footballing quote of all time.

Six of the best Mourinho quotes

  • 'I am more than unhappy. Unhappy is a nice word.'
  • 'The moral of the story is not to listen to those who tell you not to play the violin but stick to the tambourine.'
  • 'Usually, when you score two and concede one, you win the game.'
  • 'Almost. But in football, almost is almost.'
  • 'It's like having a blanket that is too small for the bed. You pull the blanket up to keep your chest warm and your feet stick out. I cannot buy a bigger blanket because the supermarket is closed. But the blanket is made of cashmere.'
  • 'In the supermarket you have class one, two or class three eggs and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. So when the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem.'

English standards debate begins as top grade A-level results top 25%

Plain English Campaign has joined the debate about the standard of English in British schools and colleges, as government test results revealed 40% of pupils are failing to meet required standards in the ‘Three Rs’. The Government’s Key Stage Three tests showed that nearly 200,000 children failed to write in a formal style or spell words with more than two syllables.

This week also saw the publication of a list of writing ‘howlers’ collected by the respected academic Dr Bernard Lamb, who claimed that foreign students were better at spelling than their British counterparts. Yet top grade A level results have risen from just over 15% to around 25% in the last ten years.

'It is so disappointing to know that children are growing up without being able to read and write properly’, said Campaign founder/director Chrissie Maher. ‘Pupils need to be taught grammar and spelling at an early stage so that they develop good writing skills for later life. I couldn't read or write properly when I was a child and I know how difficult life can be because of this.'

Poacher turns gamekeeper as radio DJ joins Plain English Campaign

Plain English Campaign has just announced the appointment of its new press officer. He is Steve Jenner, afternoon presenter and Operations Director on North West Derbyshire commercial radio station High Peak Radio.

Steve joins the Campaign immediately and will be based at Combs near Chapel-en-le-Frith in the High Peak district of Derbyshire. "I’m really looking forward to the challenge,” said Steve. “I’m setting up an e-mail news service and I’m hoping to be run off my feet with demands for interviews. We have our own ISDN studio and hope to provide you with quick, useable quotes on demand."

Campaign launches its Advanced Grammar Course in Manchester

Plain English Campaign announced the launch of the Advanced Grammar course in Manchester. Previously the course has only been available in London.

"It's a very popular course but it's not one for the faint-hearted", said the Campaign's Steve Jenner. "It is about the grammar of standard English - the language of print, education, business and the professions. It is very intense but there will be time to discuss problems. Now we're introducing the course in Manchester we're hoping for the same enthusiastic take-up we achieved in London."

The course will take place at the Thistle Manchester Hotel on Portland Street, Piccadilly Gardens on 18 September 2007. Please contact us if you would like to book a place.

Volkswagen launch plain English advertising campaign

The car manufacturer Volkswagen has launched a new marketing campaign which attacks the use of gobbledygook and 'spin' in modern advertising. The campaign, which promotes the firm's Passat model, features simple descriptions of everyday items such as a cup of coffee, alongside longer versions such as 'double-choc cinnamon mochaccino with cream'. The car is then 'positioned as a simple concept in a world of fluff' according to Proximity London, the agency behind the campaign. Volkswagen is keen to be seen as a company that 'thinks like its audience'.

Jargon, bullying and deceit - this is education on ration

Education chiefs from Derbyshire County Council might have thought they had an easy fight when they proposed closing Combs Infant School in the High Peak. It is the smallest infant school in Derbyshire. Only 26 pupils, a handful of families, a small rural population … what could they do?

But there's a shock for the Matlock mandarins. One of Britain's toughest and most experienced campaigners has rolled up her sleeves and joined the battle. Chrissie Maher, founder-director of the world famous Plain English Campaign - and a resident of Combs - has an interest in the school's future.

One grandchild already goes there, and loves it. A second grandchild will start in the autumn. And a third grandchild - due to be born in October - will attend if this wonderful school remains open.

Chrissie said: "We're fighting for the next generation, as well as the children who attend this lovely little school. I'm right alongside the mums and dads - including my son Peter and his wife Liz - who refuse to let the civil servants put an end to the school."

Chrissie pulled no punches in her attack on the Derbyshire education authority. She accused them of:

  • Jargon, bullying and deceit.
    "I did my early campaigning in Tuebrook, Liverpool, a deprived inner city area. Officialdom treated ordinary people with contempt. Over 30 years later, you don't expect that in a nice rural village like Combs. But officialdom is still the same - get the 'victims' off guard, shock everyone with the speed of the plans, and use gobbledygook and jargon in the reports. Then, after talking about consultation, let the cat out of the bag and say the plan is to close the school."
  • Putting education on ration.
    "The council keep talking about the high cost of educating children at Combs - £5,447 a year compared with the county average of £2,635. They tried the same argument with Stoney Middleton school, but the school fought back and today we hear they have won. "This is education on ration. If you go to a little school in a rural area - however wonderful that school is - the authority wants to pull you down to average or mediocre. And to hell with the prospects of the children."
  • A kick in the teeth for Ofsted.
    "It was only last September that Ofsted produced its report on Combs - 'an outstanding school' they called it, with 'outstanding value for money'. So why kick Ofsted in the teeth as well as the school? And why now? Were they planning the closure even last year when Ofsted went to Combs and handed out Grade 1 in every category? Don't Derbyshire want standards raising? Wouldn't they rather other schools tried what Combs has successfully done? Derbyshire's message to the children, teachers and parents is that Ofsted doesn't matter. It's money that matters. Truly a case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing!"
  • Betrayal of a generation of children.
    "It's such a little school, that every child knows every other child. They are the future of the village and the valley. They have the security of friendship and very good teachers. If Combs closes, children could be scattered into several schools. What's that going to do to them, after the best start youngsters could get anywhere in Britain? We support the governors, the parents and the wider community in saying Save Our School."
  • Condemning a rural community to slow death. "Combs is such a small community. There is no shop, no post office, one pub, and the school. It uses the church hall, the only public building in the whole valley. If the school goes, the rent to the trustees goes, then maybe the hall itself would no longer be viable. If the children go, the spark would go out of the village. During the day, you would never hear kids singing in the school. Derbyshire wants to dump the Combs children in Chapel. Well, we don't. We want to keep them here and give the village a future."

PEC quiz council about 'school closure gobbledygook'

Plain English Campaign (PEC) has challenged Derbyshire County Council to explain why it has used 'gobbledygook, obscure words, woolly thinking and inaccurate statements' in communications with villagers in Combs.

PEC asks why it took the council 151 words to say to parents: 'There will be a meeting at Combs Infant School on Tuesday May 22 at 6.30pm to discuss the future of the school. Derbyshire County Council is considering closing the school to save money.'

The council's long introduction to the letter received by parents on May 9 is just one of the points being queried in Plain English Campaign's reply to David Humphrey, the council's Head of Development. More gobbledygook occurs in a document sent to school governors in the council's attempt to assist them.

Here is an example: 'However, the Strategy recognised that there are many alternative strategies for addressing surplus places and that these may be necessary in instances where no individual project at a single school could address the problem; when an area perspective indicated that a review across numbers of schools was required the solution may involve all schools.'

Elsewhere the council uses words like 'cohorts' and 'discontinuance' and clumsy phrases such as 'commitment of resources', which, says Plain English Campaign, means 'expense.' PEC asks Mr Humphrey to explain 'net capacity' at the school. Does this mean number of pupils? Is there a 'gross capacity'? What is the 'published admission number'? What is 'PLASC 2007 (% surplus)'?

PEC's founder-director Chrissie Maher, who lives in Combs and has a grandchild at the school, says 'One inaccuracy is their statement that our children progress to Chapel-en-le-Frith Primary School. In fact not one child from Combs has gone there in the past eight years. If they cannot express themselves clearly, and make inaccurate statements, how do we know they are thinking clearly? It looks as though gobbledygook is once again swamping common sense, clarity and good government.'

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