And yet there is another argument to be made in all of this. In defense of those who can't spell, it's not necessarily because the education system is failing them or because they're stupid - it's the English language that is at fault. Consider that we are one of the only European languages that hasn't been systematically updated for hundreds of years. French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian... all of those languages have been reformed at some time or another to bring spelling in line with pronunciation. In fact many of our French derived words are spelled as they were hundreds of years ago and bear little similarity to how they are spelled in modern French because French is centrally controlled and they were willing to update their spelling.
To see the failure of English look at the word 'night'. Originally it was spelled as it was pronounced. We have not used the soft sound 'gh' in the word for centuries now so why do we hold onto the spelling? 'Nite' is seen as a lazy, modern and a result of poor business signage and the SMS age. Yet no-one would read it and not know what it means, and it would take far less time for children to learn to spell it.
There has been a push to reform English spelling for over a hundred years now. The Americans partially reformed their spelling, eliminating quite a few silent letters from words, but they fell short of a complete overhaul. So why do we persist in favouring outdated spelling? It doesn't benefit our students. Consider that it is considered laughable in Italy that a child of eight wouldn't be able to spell all words in their vocabulary. So how much extra time can be spent learning other useful things given that spelling takes care of itself when a child speaks Italian? Imagine if mathematics had as many obscure clauses and conditions that English spelling possesses. 4+4=8 except in some cases where it equals 13. Most time would be spent learning the exceptions rather than basic maths skills with absolutely no benefit to students' overall knowledge of mathematics
. In Italy spelling is simple and students can focus on other things to learn. Forcing English speaking students to focus on out of date spellings to the detriment of other subjects simply puts them behind their international contemporaries in terms of what they can learn in the time they spend at school.
So what purpose do all of these spelling exceptions hold? It makes it harder to learn to write English so it doesn't benefit communication. It doesn't aid in clarity since most words are seen in the context in which they are used anyway. They're/Their/There may make more sense in writing, but we don't have any way to distinguish them verbally and we seem to get our points across in conversations with no problems at all. Instead we have an archaic system that seems to exist only to try and trip people up when they are trying to communicate. The only purpose that keeping our spelling so complicated serves is to preserve elitism - if you can spell properly you are somehow better than those who cannot. And given it's the people who can spell who are in charge of education, dictionaries and publishing it's not surprising that they'd rather keep the status quo
rather than reform spelling for the benefit of all.