A recent OECD survey ranked England for literacy amongst 16-24-year-olds. How did we do? Top 5 surely? No. Oh well, top 10 definitely... Wrong again. We came 22nd, third from last.1 Another report states that over 5 million adults in England can be described as ‘functionally illiterate’.2

It will come as no surprise that at ProofProfessor we believe that literacy is vitally important. We also believe in preserving standards of written English, the language of the world’s greatest writers. We try to do our own little bit by providing the best proofreading and editing possible, whilst also banging the literacy drum. We are still very happy to offer £25 per spelling error found on our own website (see FAQs). (We haven’t had to pay anyone yet.)

But increasingly these days we’re struck by a worrying trend amongst organisations who promote literacy, and those who ‘sell’ it by training and accrediting proofreaders at the highest level. Via Twitter, email and our forthcoming literacy reports, ProofProfessor dares to criticise the UK’s worst literacy practitioners: those posturing as the guardians of the best possible English and who really should know better.

In 2014 and 2015 our literacy ‘activism’ has been targeted mainly at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), the UK’s foremost organisation of qualified proofreaders, and the Publishing Training Centre (PTC), both of whom ‘teach’ proofreading, urging them to address the substandard spelling and grammar they continue to perpetuate on their websites. For over a year we have asked these bodies to address our concerns. Despite our willingness to help they continue to ignore us directly. Sadly, in March 2015 ProofProfessor was forced to threaten legal action against the SfEP for ill-founded and potentially defamatory posts on their members-only forum.

Many we criticise will regard us as an irritant, but our activism is based on a concern about drastically falling literacy levels – from primary schools where teachers cannot spell the words they are supposed to teach their pupils, through to higher education, esteemed professors, politicians, the upper echelons of the literati, and beyond.

The ongoing response from our clients is one of great support, not only for the services they receive (see Testimonials), but also for our wider literacy project. ProofProfessor’s first literacy report will be published later this year.

1 OECD Survey of Adult Skills 2013, see http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac/Skills%20volume%201%20%28eng%29--full%20v12--eBook%20%2804%2011%202013%29.pdf

2 http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/adult_literacy/illiterate_adults_in_england

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