Our crusade against capitalisation
Some schools are fortunate enough still to employ serious wordsmiths. These are people who were taught how to write English properly, much as Winston Churchill was. As Churchill explains in one of my favourite passages from My Early Life:
[B]y being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell -- a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great -- was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing -- namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. . . Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence -- which is a noble thing.
Churchill describes Mr Somervell's technique for getting his pupils to parse a sentence: colour coding all the different parts of speech in the manner of a drill, until it became automatic. Although I was taught English well at school, this kind of drilling had fallen out of fashion; as a result I lack Churchillian automaticity in my writing. Teachers lucky enough to possess automaticity - of which there are a declining number - are often marked out by the quality of their pupil reports. Always skilfully worded and perceptive, their reports don't suffer from a misplaced apostrophe or the bungled use of a comma and are always a joy to read.
One of Oswestry's last remaining wordmiths waged a personal crusade against capitalisation. It is quite common amongst teachers to capitalise their subject when referring to it: 'Geography', the thinking goes, is more august that 'geography'. Similarly with roles within school; after all, who would pass up on the opportunity to be referred to as 'Senior Teacher' as opposed to senior teacher? Or 'Head of Mathematics' as against 'head of mathematics'? But capitalising in this way gives rise to logical inconsistencies: if you are going to capitalise roles, where do you stop: Head of Chess Club? Master in Charge of Model Trains? And if you think that these shouldn't be capitalised, on what basis do you hold this view? Try explaining your rationale to the teacher proudly manicuring the plastic grass outside the school's miniature railway terminus.
Despite protestations from some staff, our 'Reports Style Bible' prohibits the capitalisation of subject names in reports (unless English, or French etc.) and periodically we expunge the capitals that appear dotted in our calendar entries, policy documents and elsewhere. It seems we're in good company in this regard. Here is what the University of Oxford Style Guide has to say about capitalisation:
That's pretty clear!