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Plain English campaign news articles

Barking mad? Marking mad!

Plain English Campaign has highlighted the poorly-marked Standard Assessment Tests (SATS) released by a Lancashire head teacher as an example of the plummeting literacy standards in schools. Janis Burden, of Moss Side Primary in Chorley, revealed that an essay littered with spelling and grammatical errors had received a higher mark than another, more literate one.

The campaign’s media advisor, Steve Jenner, said: “The marking of English SATs has been a standing joke in the teaching profession for years. Many teachers see the SATs, their administration, preparation and marking as a national scandal. They are often badly marked and returned late to schools. Teenagers who haven’t passed their A-levels have been employed to mark papers. This means that results are often called into question by the schools, and parents don’t have a reliable indication of how well their child has actually done.”

The SATs marking system has already run into serious problems, with MPs and senior teachers expressing concerns about the company appointed by the government to mark the tests. Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, has refused to apologise for the debacle.

Steve Jenner added “We congratulate Janis Burden on taking a stand. To award higher marks to papers containing lots of mistakes is frankly ridiculous. It is time for ministers to take action to make sure this sort of thing stops. We need to have a real debate about the best way to teach our children how to read and write. And SAT markers should have the relevant subject knowledge and expertise.”

The 10p tax band explained

Here at Plain English Campaign we ponder over letters and their meaning and can usually make some sense of the most challenging jargon and gobbledygook.

But when it comes to numbers we have to hold our hands up in despair on occasion – for example if asked to explain the 10% (10p) tax band.

Fortunately, we have access to accounting expertise and we have set out below a clear explanation of the tax band change for people who are struggling to understand it. In 2007/2008 everyone who earned enough was entitled to the 10% tax band (on the first £2,230 of income above the personal allowance).

In 2008/2009 the loss of this tax band will cost extra tax on most salaries up to £16,499. Most people earning more than £16,500 will pay less tax.

From 6 April 2008 the amount you can earn before you start to pay tax has been raised from £5,225 a year to £5,435. At the same time the 10% tax rate has ended and the basic rate of tax has been lowered from 22% to 20%.

So, as an example, if your wage was £8,000 in tax year 2007/2008, after taking away your tax free allowance of £5,225 you would have paid tax on £2,775 (£8,000 minus £5,225).

The first £2,230 would have been taxed at 10% which equals £223.
The remaining £545 would have been taxed at 22% which equals £119.90
So you would have paid £342.90 tax on the £8,000 you earned in 2007/2008.

With the new tax rates, if your wage is still £8,000 in 2008/2009, after taking away your tax free allowance of £5,435 (raised from £5,225 in 2007/2008), you will pay tax on £2,565, at 20% which equals £513. So you will have £170.10 less this year than last (£513 - £342.90).
This is £14.17 less each month.

In 2008/2009, most people earning less than £16,500 will be worse off after tax than they were in 2007/2008 and those earning £16,500 and above could be better off.

Recent survey results from national media sources shows that in 2007 the 1,000 wealthiest people in Britain had a total wealth of £412 billion (£412,000 million). That is four times more than they had in 1997.

Police forces accused of using 'ploddledygook'

Plain English Campaign is calling on the country’s police forces to return to basics – starting with the language used to communicate with the public. The campaign has noticed an increase in the number of complaints it receives about police communication, particularly slogans.

Statements about standard policing are made into 'revelatory' slogans such as ‘Committed to fighting crime’ or 'Keeping you safe'. Other taglines such as “Putting you First” and “Our focus is you” suggest an extra commitment to the tax–payer. Forces are also adopting new jargon such as 'Citizen-focused command centre', and referring to members of the public as 'customers'.

Campaigners argue that as police jargon-busters exist on a number of police websites, forces must already know that explanations are needed for some of their commonly-used terms. They say that the longer people have to fight their way through this sort of meaningless jargon, the less they pay attention to the real issues.

PEC spokeswoman Marie Clair said: "It is reminiscent of politicians announcing that they are ‘taking the terrorist threat very seriously’ and that ‘education is a top priority’. You can’t argue with the sentiment, but the repetition of a widely accepted ‘truism’ isn't acceptable as a replacement for clearly–stated policy.”

She added: "Do the public really understand terms such as 'County Delivery Unit'? It sounds more like a milk round than policing. It seems that administrative confusion is hitting our streets when we really need to spend the resources on policing. Maybe this Ploddledygook is the latest weapon against the criminals - it certainly had me floored."

Plain English Campaign supports MP in call for war on small print

Nottinghamshire MP Dr. Nick Palmer is to call for an end to small print, and Plain English Campaign has pledged its support.

The Broxtowe MP is launching a Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 26 February. The Bill has attracted the backing of MPs from across the main political parties. Support also comes from a coalition of campaign groups including RNIB, Age Concern and the Trading Standards Institute.

“The scourge of small print has made life a misery for many people over the years,” said Plain English Campaign spokesman Steve Jenner. “There is absolutely no reason for it apart from making information more difficult to read. If we look at the organisations that are backing the Bill, we can see there’s a whole range of people who are affected.

“The only conclusion to draw is that when companies and organisations use small print, they don’t want us to understand.

“We’d also hope that by forcing the issue on small print, jargon and gobbledygook will also be ditched. We hope that this Bill makes companies realise that it’s time to re-edit their documents, and get rid of unnecessary small print. Even the most complicated public documents can be written in a way that people can understand.’

Plain English Campaign declares war on 'buzzwords'

An article by Bill Jamieson in ‘The Scotsman’ has highlighted the way in which ‘Newspeak’ has invaded Scottish life.

The author received a ‘deluge’ of responses, all featuring specific examples. Political ‘buzzwords’ and phrases like ‘policy-based evidence’, ‘consensus’, ‘partnership working’ and ‘connectivity’ came in for particular criticism.

Plain English Campaign has made comments in the media several times about this issue recently and has decided enough is enough. Campaign spokesperson Steve Jenner said today:

“It is frequently suggested to us in interviews that it is acceptable for people to use buzzwords and phrases in the workplace. We don’t think it is. There are a number of reasons why.”

“If a council, health authority or other large organisation holds a training event, the ‘delegates’ are more likely to spend their time playing ‘buzzword bingo’. This is amusing until you remember these events are funded by public money.”

“It also breeds terrible cynicism about the political process. Bill Jamieson credits a contributor for pointing out that ‘public consultation’ and ‘have your say’ usually mean the exact opposite. We have looked at a number of ‘public consultations’ this year which suggest exactly that. We applaud Bill’s ‘overarching purpose’ in writing this article.”

“We also call on all public agencies, political organisations and private companies throughout Scotland to run plain English training sessions. These could feature as part of forthcoming training events. A good starting point would be for each organisation to identify a top ten list of buzzwords or phrases it uses. And then come up with a plain English alternative list.”

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