In this edition Mona McNee describes some of her experiences (p.33) which understandably led her to found the UK Reading Reform Foundation in 1989. It is greatly significant that fourteen years later, I attended a DfES phonics seminar as the representative of the RRF only to be utterly dismayed by an event which could, and should, have marked a true turning point in the history of teacher-training for reading instruction in this country. I write my personal response to the seminar and to Professor Greg Brooks’s subsequent report on p.5. Whilst the RRF is pleased to have made its mark in Brooks’s reporting, it is SO disappointing that the NLS programmes and advice for reading instruction were not examined properly and compared honestly with the research on reading and other programmes. Tweaking the NLS reading instruction programmes and ignoring the flaws will not do the job needed to raise literacy standards. The reading instruction method which the DfES continues to promote needs to be radically changed to become fully consistent with the research and to raise the literacy levels of the bottom 20% and eradicate the gender gap.
Must this whitewash continue or will Charles Clarke, the Minister for Education, step in to investigate and intervene when he learns of the truth of the matter? Jennifer Chew (p.17) and Professor Diane McGuinness (p.18) respond succinctly to the National Literacy Strategy paper written specifically for the DfES phonics seminar. The NLS paper ‘Teaching Phonics in the National Literacy Strategy’, Professor Brooks’s report and the speakers’ papers can be viewed and downloaded at: www.standards.dfee.gov.uk/new/published/phonics/
There is also a direct link to the seminar material from the RRF website homepage. (The RRF website is well worth a visit with many links to research and relevant sites of interest, plus we have a new-style message board which is very ‘active’.)
As always, Jennifer Chew provides us with interesting research facts in her digest (p.21) and she describes the Spalding Method in action seen first hand in a school in Arizona (p.22). We have received some touching letters with the theme of ‘failed boys’ (p.23) and a poignant article entitled ‘The Invisible Enemy’ (p.25) by Alyson Mountjoy about how we fail the children even before they get to secondary school. This is followed by an article by Dr Bonnie Macmillan ‘Illiterate boys: The new international phenomenon’ (p.27) which provides us with yet more evidence of failing our boys.
I am pleased to include Christopher Jolly’s keynote speech in Brunei in October 2003 at the British Council Conference; ‘Raising standards: The opportunities and difficulties’ (p.37). I consider Chris Jolly to be quite a visionary. His insight into the reading debate, and the spread of the Jolly Phonics programme are making an important contribution to teaching English in many parts of the world. Charles Clarke should be meeting with Chris and listening to what he has to say based on his broad knowledge and experiences.
I am sorry for the delay since the last newsletter and hope that you enjoy reading this latest edition. I finish with ‘the last word’ on p. 43 in more ways than one, because Jennifer Chew is kindly taking over editorship of the next RRF newsletters.