I received this message last week:
“I am trying to find a book to buy written in ITA. I learned ITA at school from 1965 to about 1968. I think it must have been pretty new then because when I went up to the junior school, there were only 6 of us who read ITA. They had to split the class and write everthing twice, once in ITA and again in English”
Yes, it was a very odd period in British education – a really bold idea that was dominant for several years and then dropped rapidly from favour. Although I was born in 1964 so must be a bit younger than you, I managed to escape ITA, although my cousins (about 6 years younger than me and so learning to read in the early 70s, were taught using ITA and still blame it to this day for their problems with spelling! So that would span about a decade.
If you have no idea what ITA is – and many people look completely blank if I mention it – this picture above should give you an idea.
In the 1960s, when Ladybird decided to publish a small number of their books in ITA as well as in traditional orthography, they were only following a widespread trend of the day.
The following is an extract from EyeMagazine :
In September 1961 young children starting school in twenty selected primary schools in the Midlands found themselves the unwitting subjects of a controversial educational and typographical experiment. These were the first children to be taught their letters via the Initial Teaching Alphabet: an elegant set of 44 lower-case characters designed to ease the route into the complexities of printed English….
A logical system
James Pitman proposed that children should learn to read with an augmented alphabet that would cover, through 44 distinct characters, the principal sounds in the language – not just short and long vowel sounds, but the most common digraphs (such as ‘th’, ‘ch’) which, as letter combinations, form confusing units within traditional orthography (T.O.). The new alphabet was not intended as a wholesale spelling reform, nor as a replacement for the existing alphabet; its role was purely to provide a logical system that would be simpler for children to learn. Having mastered the concept of reading, they would then make the transition to T.O. at the age seven or so, discarding the initial alphabet like an outgrown shoe.
So whatever happened to ITA? Why did it fall from grace? Has it disappeared completely?
You should find the answers in the full article and another resource listed below – but you might find the many, many comments on this blog post pretty informative too. Please do add to them if you experienced learning to read with ITA. And keep your eye out for Ladybird books in ITA. They can command quite a price among collectors today.