Education Quandary

Should teachers be told to teach synthetic phonics, or is this a fad that will be discredited later?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

The evidence for synthetic phonics is good. Knowing letter sounds seems to help most children to feel more confident about reading, and to make good reading progress (not really surprising).

But whether the Government should be laying down the law on this is a different matter. Teachers are professionals, and should be respected as such. By all means give them all the current evidence on phonics. Recommend strongly that it is put at the heart of learning to read. Hand out advice on how this might be done, and what resources could be used to do it.

But, in education, you will always be asking for trouble if you decree that there is one way, and one way only, to go about teaching something. Teaching is an art, not a science. Different teachers go about things in different ways, and every child is an individual.

Also, phonics is not a magic wand and inflated claims about it will inevitably rebound later. It can be taught badly, just like anything else. Meanwhile, if a terrific teacher is getting great results using a mixture of reading methods, why should he or she be put in the phonics-only straightjacket?

Teachers are sick to death of being told how to do the job they've trained for. They hate tests and targets. They are utterly fed up with Big Government directing their every move. In their classrooms, they know that children perform best when they are trusted and respected. The Government should accord our teachers the same courtesy.

Readers' advice

Someone should tell the Government that most primary teachers are doing this already.
Helen Johnston, Bournemouth

As a relatively new teacher and as someone who struggled to read initially as a child - I memorised - I firmly believe that a range of different strategies are not only useful, but essential, for children to take on board and then apply when learning to read.

A strategy that works for one child may be lost on another; and both are useful for a third.
Henricus Peters, Bucks

Over the past 60 years education in the UK has been in the grip of a constructivist mania. Teachers no longer teach, they facilitate; children no longer learn, they discover. As someone who has taught in secondary schools for more than 30 years, I have seen the damage caused by this theoretical pie-in-the-sky type of thinking.

This means that, in practice, when it comes to learning to read, children have been left to "discover" the complexity of the alphabetic code for themselves. If you have to pick up the pieces you know it for the rubbish that it is. Since I started using a synthetic phonics methodology to help year eight pupils, results have been outstanding. Christopher had a reading age of seven when he came to us; by the end of the year he was reading up to his chronological age. His favourite author now is Stephen King.

He is only one of many examples I could quote.
Jim Curran, County Down

Next week's quandary

We keep hearing about the lack of qualified maths and science teachers. Are there any teaching materials that could be used by pupils to teach themselves at their own pace? The sort of things I have in mind are the Open University courses but at school level. This would give all students access to the best teaching.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce to arrive no later than next Monday, 10 April, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address.

Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser