24 FEBRUARY 2001, Page 29

Stunned into silence

From Audrey Murphy Sir: With regard to Philip Hensher's article on the collapse of education (17 February): as a lecturer in an FE college, I was keenly aware of my students' problems with English. I remember one class in particular. It comprised students of leisure and tourism, of media studies and of sundry engineering specialisms. I turned round from the board one day to see that my normally very relaxed clientele had stiffened to attention like a herd of startled deer. What had I done? I had just written the words their/there/they're and were/where/wear/we're on the board, and classified them into their different parts of speech. I was about to explain that these were not mere venial spelling errors that had occurred in their homework but mortal sins against the rules of grammar that underlie the ability of the human mind to think.

My students were 16and 17-year-olds who apparently had not previously met the idea that there was a logical structure to their language. Most significantly, they found it very interesting.

I share Philip Hensher's sense of outrage at the tragic waste in our educational system, but I also remember once observing that I was not going back into comprehensive-school teaching unless armed with a stun gun.

Audrey Murphy