'Back to basics' overhaul for reading lessons

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The Independent Online

Ministers will announce plans today for a major overhaul of the way young children are taught to read.

A Government review of literacy education is expected to recommend a so-called "back to basics" method of teaching reading through letter sounds.

The review will call for a new focus on making sure children master basic listening and speaking skills before they learn to read.

The Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is expected to back all the recommendations in the interim report, drawn up by former Ofsted director Jim Rose.

Ms Kelly announced the review in June after criticism from MPs and Ofsted that one in five children leave primary school unable to read and write properly.

Ms Kelly is expected to welcome the review as "a strong and authoritative lead on the directions we need to take".

"Our challenge now is to learn from the best evidence of what works and when, and to embed that within the literacy strategy for the future."

The major focus of Mr Rose's investigation was the method of teaching reading known as "synthetic phonics".

This very traditional method involves children learning letter sounds first and then gradually blending sounds to form words.

Phonics was the main way reading was taught for many years until the 1960s when other systems were introduced, including teaching children to remember whole words.

Recent trials in Scotland found children taught to read using synthetic phonics were three years ahead of their peers who were taught with other methods by the age of 11.

This prompted calls from MPs and others to concentrate on synthetic phonics as the best way to teach reading in schools.

Ministers insisted phonics was already central to the national literacy strategy.

But the national strategy also includes other methods such as teaching children to understand words from their context.

Critics said synthetic phonics was only effective when used on its own.

Mr Rose's review will recommend:

* Teaching must be set within "a broad and rich language environment", including exposing children to good literature;

* A focus on children's speaking and listening skills as an essential foundation before learning to read through phonics;

* Children should be learning to read by the age of five using phonics on its own;

* Catch-up classes for children who struggle with reading should be properly integrated with the rest of class work;

* Staff must be committed and teachers must be monitored to make sure they teach phonics properly.

Mr Rose will produce his final report in January, focusing on how to improve catch-up classes for children who need more help.