Leading article: A teaching method that works


Things have reached a pretty pass when something as basic and necessary as learning to read becomes politicised. But this is what happened after a study in Scotland showed that primary school pupils taught by a method known as synthetic phonics learnt to read faster than those taught by other methods. The Conservatives called for the system to be adopted nationwide. The Government demurred, and then set up a review.

The interim results of that review, conducted by Jim Rose, a former director of inspections at Ofsted, bore out the thesis that synthetic phonics helped more children to read more quickly than other currently used methods. The Government, to its credit, responded immediately. The Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, announced yesterday that she was accepting the findings. Synthetic phonics is to be the preferred method of teaching reading in primary schools in England.

Almost anyone now above or approaching 50 would wonder what all the fuss was about. Synthetic phonics, although mostly not known by that name then, was the way that most learnt to read. It was only later that other methods were used, instead or in combination, as part of the rethink of primary teaching undertaken in the Sixties and thereafter.

As with so much in education, the very brightest children and those whose families prize education tend to do well in the end, whatever methods are used to teach them. It is those who are less bright, or enjoy fewer advantages, who are most penalised by poor or ineffectual teaching. And for all the target-setting and national testing that this government has introduced, the primary school literacy targets have remained stubbornly elusive - even though they are arguably the most crucial. Children who have difficulty reading or writing at 11 will be handicapped for the rest of their school career, unless remedial action is taken. At present, this is as many as one in four.

Synthetic phonics may not be the whole answer to the teaching of reading. But some education specialists surely protest too much when they object that this method does not suit all children and could detract from a child's enjoyment of reading. The review findings show that even if this method does not suit all, it suits a greater proportion than the combination of methods currently employed. As for enjoyment, what is there to enjoy about not being able to read at all?

The guiding principle in schools, which is surely applicable further afield, must be "what works". If, as seems clear, synthetic phonic works better than other methods, it should be used.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own