MPs: Gove's obsession with phonics will turn children off reading

Children's reading standards may be damaged by the Government's promotion of teaching phonics in schools, a report by an all-party group of MPs warns today. The Coalition is keen on the use of synthetic phonics – where children learn the sounds of letters rather than whole words – as the best way to improve reading standards among pupils.

Schools have been told they will get extra funding for training provided they use government-approved phonics teaching methods during reading lessons. Education Secretary Michael Gove is also introducing a phonics-based reading test for all six-year-olds to check on their reading skills.

But today's report, by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Education, says: "There is no single panacea which guarantees that all children will become readers. Following one programme rigidly will make reading unexciting to children."

It adds that the "one size fits all" approach of the Government "is flattening out inspiration and achievement: thereby failing low achievers and switching off the brightest [pupils]". It is full of praise for initiatives such as the Reading Recovery project, in which slow readers are given one-to-one sessions with mentors to improve their abilities. Funding for this has been cut, with schools who want to persevere with the programme being told they must find the cash from within their own budgets.

The MPs say the financial incentive provided by using approved phonics programmes "will be very strong and will be hard to ignore for many cash-strapped schools". But it concludes: "It should be acknowledged that there is no one way to teach reading and so a single focus on systematic synthetic phonics is a false one. The phonics test at six is likely to de-motivate children rather than ensure that they become eager and fluent readers."

Fabian Hamilton, the group's chairman and Labour MP for Leeds North East, said: "I think the Government needs to put literacy at the forefront of all education policies," adding that it was "absolutely right" that some children's progress could be hampered by a concentration on just synthetic phonics. "Children should be encouraged to read for pleasure," he said.

Schools minister Nick Gibb has said: "Synthetic phonics will not be compulsory in schools but we do believe more schools should teach synthetic phonics, because it is shown to have a major and long-lasting effect on children's reading and spelling."

The all-party group has 40 members – 25 MPs and 15 members of the House of Lords. They include the former education secretaries Ed Balls and Baroness (Estelle) Morris.

What is phonics?

Phonics is a widely used method of teaching children to read and decode words. Children are taught to associate the sounds of spoken English with letters or groups of letters, and to blend the sounds of letters to produce approximate pronunciations of unknown words.

This method teaches them that letters such as /k/ can be represented by c, k, ck, ch or q spellings, and that "tion" sounds like /shun/.

Children usually begin learning using phonics at about five. The previous government had put more emphasis on a "searchlights" method, where children were given simple books and taught how to guess words using context and picture clues.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk