Schools must teach back-to-basics 'phonics'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Primary schools will be required by law to teach children to read using a controversial back-to-basics method known as "synthetic phonics", the Government announced today.

The Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said the statutory National Curriculum would be revised to make sure phonics was the "prime" teaching system used in reading lessons.

The Government said headteachers should set "ambitious targets" for the literacy skills children are expected to have by the end of primary school.

Ms Kelly was responding to final recommendations from Jim Rose, a former director at Ofsted who conducted a national review of the way children learn to read in England.

Synthetic phonics involves blending individual letter sounds to form whole words, for example "s-t-r-e-e-t".

The Government's current literacy strategy recommends a mixture of methods, including understanding words from their context.

But while the national literacy strategy represents recommendations which schools can choose to ignore, in future teaching phonics will be a legal requirement.

Ms Kelly will say: "I am clear that synthetic phonics should be the first strategy in teaching all children to read.

"We will now work with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority on how best to embed this in the National Curriculum."

Ms Kelly said the Rose Review was "a clear road map" for teaching reading, based on the experience of teachers and experts who know what works best for children in the classroom.

Mr Rose's final report, published today, recommended:

* Systematic phonics teaching should start for most children by the age of five;

* Pupils who fall behind should have extra catch-up classes;

* Schools should work on developing children's speaking and listening skills as well as reading;

* Headteachers should prioritise phonics for beginner readers and set ambitious targets for achievements in English by the end of primary school.

Mr Rose is expected to say: "The review confirms the importance of establishing high quality, systematic phonic work as essential for beginner readers.

"At best our settings and schools embody the principles of such work within a language-rich curriculum that gives rise to high achievements in reading and writing.

"The challenge now is to ensure that in all settings and schools, the teaching and learning of early reading and writing in general, and phonic work in particular, measure up to this best practice."

The Government argues that primary school standards "have never been higher", with 84% of 11 year-olds are now reaching the expected level for their age in reading, compared to 67% in 1997.

But ministers acknowledge that one in five children still do not leave primary school with the required English skills.

The benefits of different methods of teaching reading generate heated arguments among teachers and education experts.

Phonics is a very traditional method involving children learning letter sounds first and then gradually blending sounds to form words.

It 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 that by age 11 children taught to read using synthetic phonics were three years ahead of their peers who were taught with other methods.

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

But when Ms Kelly backed Mr Rose's interim report last year, teachers' unions warned against over-prescribing what should be taught in the classroom.

Many said phonics would not be right for every child and attacked the idea that a single "fashionable" method should be promoted at the expense of other approaches.

Comments