We had hoped to be able to comment in this issue on both the interim and final reports resulting from Jim Rose’s review of the teaching of reading, but the final report will appear just too late for this.
The Reading Reform Foundation has, however, been most encouraged by the interim report, which was published on 1 December 2005. We would like to congratulate Mr Rose on the understanding he has shown of the issues and particularly on his courage in recommending that the ‘searchlights’ model so central to the original National Literacy Strategy (NLS) should be replaced. His interim report was headed ‘Independent review of the teaching of early reading’. It is early reading which is at issue, and paragraphs 34 to 36 make some excellent points about the danger of expecting beginners to behave like advanced readers. As Mr Rose says, ‘there is a deceptively attractive tendency to start from the end of the reading process by identifying what skilled and proficient readers do, and then to assume that all the strategies of skilled reading need to be covered from children’s first steps of learning to read. For many beginner readers, this can amount to a daunting and confusing experience’ (paragraph 34). How right he is, and how much less daunting and confusing it is for beginners to focus at first just on letters, sounds and sound-blending at the simplest level.
Mr Rose goes on to quote exactly the passage from a 2002 report from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) which we quoted in the editorial of our last Newsletter (No. 56). In this passage, Ofsted criticized the ‘searchlights’ model for not distinguishing beginners from fluent readers (The National Literacy Strategy: The first four years 1998-2002, paragraph 58). We agreed with that criticism and Mr Rose has now done likewise. It is hard to see how people can argue, as some have done, that teaching simple phonics-for-reading (letter-sound correspondences and blending, using only very simple words at first) is not child-friendly when beginners have been expected to do something far more ‘daunting and confusing’ not only under the NLS but also under the overwhelmingly whole-language approaches that preceded it.
We also welcome Mr Rose’s stance on the relationship between phonics, on the one hand, and positive attitudes to reading and writing on the other. He is right to say that ‘it is absolutely not the case’ that these two things are ‘incompatible’. The attitude that they are incompatible has prevailed for too long, though not in synthetic-phonics circles. Phonics can in itself be fun as well as first and fast, and this kind of teaching can lay excellent foundations for the later enjoyment of books, not only because children develop positive attitudes to written language from the start through finding their first encounters with letters and sounds manageable and enjoyable, but also because the facility with word-reading which is developed by early systematic phonics makes the reading of continuous text a good deal easier. Several of the items in this Newsletter have a bearing on the way that decoding, comprehension and enjoyment interact with one another.
We have high hopes that Mr Rose’s final report will continue the good work done in his interim report and will deal adequately with the changes in teacher-training that will be needed if good phonics teaching is to be implemented in September 2006. If all goes according to plan, we could notice significant differences by this time next year.