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Government policy to force strong readers in schools to learn phonics is 'a form of abuse', claims leading educator


Children who are fluent readers are being damaged by the Government’s insistence on using synthetic phonics in the classroom, a leading academic warns today.

Dr Andrew Davis, from Durham University’s School of Education, argues that the insistence on being taught to read through phonics is tantamount to “a form of abuse”.

In a pamphlet to be launched tomorrow night, he will claim rival camps in the debate over how to teach children to read are acting like “religious fundamentalists”. The evidence that phonics or any other prescriptive method for teaching children to read is fundamentally flawed, he says.

Able readers, he argues, are likely to be put off by the Government’s requirement that they read books specially written only to feature words for which they have been taught through phonics in class - rather than a wider range of books which they might find more interesting.

“To subject either the fully fledged readers or those who are well on their way to a rigid diet of intensive phonics is an affront to their emerging identities as persons,” he says in the pamphlet - to be published by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.

“To require this of students who have already gained some maturity in the rich and nourishing human activity of reading is almost a form of abuse.”

The new national curriculum, to be taught to five to 14-year-olds in England from September, says that - in their first year of compulsory schooling - children should be taught to read only using “books which closely match their growing word-reading knowledge and that do not require them to use other strategies to work out words”.

Dr Davis argues this stipulation means that some pupils would be forced to read books less interesting than those they might otherwise have chosen. He also argues that the Government’s phonics check for all five- to six-year-olds - under which they are tested on the spelling of 40 words, 20 of which are made up like “voo”, “spron” and “terg”- is also “off-putting”.

“If a child is already reading for pleasure, and enjoying stories and they then get sucked into this idea that reading is essentially about decoding letters, it is potentially demotivating to them,” he adds.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “Too many children are not reaching the expected levels of reading at a young age, do not catch up and then struggle in secondary school and beyond.

“Research shows overwhelmingly that systematic phonics is the most effective way of teaching reading to children of all abilities, enabling almost all children to become confident and independent readers.

“Thanks to the phonics check, 177,000 six-year-olds will this year get the extra reading help they need to catch up with their peers.”