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Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) - Promoting Synthetic Phonics : Page Title

RRF Newsletter 59 back to contents
EditorialJennifer Chew

The big event since the last Newsletter has been the RRF conference, which took place in London on 3 November 2006. This was a great occasion: we had some excellent presentations, and there were good opportunities to get to know people during breaks. This Newsletter is being given over largely to summaries of the presentations, although we are delighted also to be able to include an article by the authors of the Clackmannanshire study and an article by Elizabeth Nonweiler on the Carriacou project. DVDs should soon be available of the conference – details will be posted at and will also be given in the next Newsletter.

Another significant event has been the publication of some ‘core position papers’ on the Department for Education and Skills website in early September. These papers present a picture which is very largely in accordance with synthetic phonics thinking: for example, they stress the importance of the ‘simple view of reading’ – a view which makes it clear that the teaching of decoding is paramount in the early stages. Comprehension is not neglected at this point, but it does not need special teaching, as children already understand spoken language quite well enough to cope with the simple texts they will encounter in their early reading. It is only later, when they are more proficient at decoding, that they should start encountering texts which contain vocabulary and sentence-structures which go beyond what is orally familiar. At this stage, they have finished ‘learning to read’ and are ‘reading to learn’, and comprehension (not only of written language but also of spoken language) becomes more of an issue.

It remains to be seen how faithfully the recommendations of the Rose Review will be implemented. The training of Primary National Strategy consultants will start in December 2006, with a strong focus on the ‘simple view of reading’. The kitemarking of commercial programmes is due to start in the spring of 2007, and that is also when a new government programme for the teaching of early reading should appear. In the meantime, some worrying reports have been heard of schools being steered away from commercial programmes – this seems out of keeping with the Rose report, given the degree to which the Rose team members were impressed by what they saw of commercial programmes during school visits. We understand, however, that the DfES is taking this problem seriously, and we hope that no more negative comments will be made about commercial programmes.

There are also reports of new projects which are based mainly on the Early Reading Development Pilot (ERDP), and these, too, may cause RRF members some concern (see Newsletter 58, p. 16). The ERDP’s main messages were, first, to confirm that starting phonic work by the age of five was helping, not harming, the children and, secondly, that taking time to teach phonic work at this stage did not distort the early-years curriculum. We welcome these findings, but we remain concerned that the ERDP was no more than ‘action research’, and that its outcomes were apparently not evaluated by means of any kind of test which would allow comparison with standards of reading and spelling reported in more rigorous academic research studies. This was in spite of the fact that the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, with the Clackmannanshire study particularly in mind, strongly urged the DfES ‘to commission a large-scale comparative study’ which should ‘measure and compare attainment by means of standardised testing…’. The ERDP appears to have been that study, but it used no standardised testing.

The children in the ERDP were in Reception and the DfES evidently decided that standardised tests were inappropriate at this stage. Instead, it used its own statutory measurement device, which is the Foundation Stage Profile. The RRF would point out, however, that the ‘simple view of reading’ in itself implies a need for some objective measurement of word-reading (and spelling) at the end of Reception. As this ‘simple view’ is now the official basis of early literacy teaching, and as it holds that the prime need of beginners is to learn to decode, it would seem appropriate to have proper measurement of early decoding skills from now on to check that they are as good as they ought to be.




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