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RRF Conference, 3rd November 2006
THE ROSE REPORT: THE CHALLENGES POSED BY THE REPORT
AND RESPONSE TO ITS RECOMMENDATIONS
Jim Rose started by saying that Mona McNee
used to harass the life out of him when he was in the inspectorate and that he
was very glad that she had. We are now in the business of moving forward. Literacy
is a universal goal, both nationally and internationally. We all agree on the end that we want, which is for children
to read and write well – what we now need to concern ourselves with is the means to that end.
The debate has sometimes been very rancorous,
and this can paralyse action, so that teachers are left unsure about the
importance of phonic work in general and systematic synthetic-phonic work in
particular. We have been in this state for far too long. There must be an
entitlement to literacy for every child. The government’s target is to reduce
inequality at the earliest possible stage. We are never out of the political
arena because of issues of resources and funding. The game we are now in is
‘quality, quality, quality’. [This was related to Tony Blair’s statement in
1997 that Labour’s priorities were ‘education, education, education’].
The review had five aspects:
best practice in early reading and synthetic phonics
revised NLS Framework for Teaching
and the new EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage)
Best provision to
help children with significant literacy difficulties catch up
leadership and management, and practitioners’ subject knowledge and skills
money/cost effectiveness of different approaches.
There had not been time to go into detail
on the value-for-money question, so the review team had looked at it largely in
terms of training.
Jim Rose himself had been given a fully
independent position in responding to the remit for the review. The reason for
the review was that the National Literacy Strategy (NLS), which later became
part of the Primary National Strategy (PNS), was due for revision. It was
recognised that a better model of reading was needed. There was also an EYFS
consultation in progress at the time; the foundation stage starts before
statutory schooling begins but continues into the statutory period.
The major parties are marching in step on
these issues. The parliamentary Select Committee took evidence from a number of
people, and would have been even more convinced if they had got out and about
more. The Rose team had got out and
about: its members had done some ‘serious visiting of schools’ to see what
worked well. They had also looked at a wide range of research.
There was concern about the slowing of
progress on achieving national targets. The National Curriculum had been
introduced in 1989 but had had very little impact on standards of reading and
even less on writing. The differences between boys and girls, and between children
from advantaged and disadvantaged homes, seemed to be widening.
In 1998, when the National Literacy
Strategy was introduced, 65% of Year 6 children reached Level 4 in the Key
Stage 2 tests. By 2005, the figure was nearly 80%, but in 2006, progress for
English seemed to have stalled. In actual numbers, some 90,000 children at the
end of Key Stage 1 (age 7) and 96,000 children at the end of Key Stage 2 (age
11) are not reaching national targets for their age. Against this background,
in the best interests of children, we need to continue to win hearts and minds in
favour of high-quality phonic work embedded in a high-quality curriculum. It is
not enough to simply deliver a report – the hard work starts now in delivering
There is no doubt that views of phonics
have changed radically. Opposition to phonics goes back a long way. Jim Rose
quoted two 18th-century writers. One described phonics as ‘A droll way of
teaching’, ‘Senseless playing with sounds’ and ‘mere fiddlesticks’, while another
described it as ‘a greater prejudice than the burning of witches and heretics;
indeed it is a greater crime than the rack and all the inhumanities lumped
together… It begets stupidity, illness and death itself. It is child-torture –
a slower and surer child-murder’!
Nowadays, systematic phonic work is
accepted on the basis of robust research: ‘These findings show that systematic
phonics instruction produced superior performance in reading compared to all
types of unsystematic or no phonic work. Phonics instruction is systematic when
all the major grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in a clearly defined
sequence’ (USA National Reading Panel , Ehri 2003).
Jim Rose pointed out the importance of oral
language development – the development of speaking and listening – in the early
years to pave the way for systematic phonics teaching and develop language
comprehension. Principled professional decisions have to be made about when to
start systematic phonics, but there was plenty of evidence from observing good
practice to show that the majority of children benefited from starting on such
a programme by the age of five.
He was attracted to the ‘simple view’ of
reading: comprehension of a text obviously depends on being able to read the
words on the page. The ‘simple view of reading’ quoted in his Review explored
how word recognition and language comprehension processes are related.
He posed three questions:
Why did the
National Curriculum not raise standards of reading and writing as
What gave rise to
the surge in standards during the seven years of the NLS?
Why are standards
Jim Rose suggested the following answers:
Curriculum did not win the hearts and minds of primary teachers.
‘Instruction’, as a term, was often disapproved of, especially in the
early years. The prevailing view tended towards view that ‘child-led’
activity was good and ‘teacher-led’ learning was not so good.
The NLS did secure more structured
teaching, but things do not change overnight – teachers ‘hedged their
bets’ by using a mixture of methods. Some children ‘caught on’, probably
because of commercial schemes – but the Rose team sometimes saw poor use
of good schemes. For example, there was particular inattention to the
skill of blending.
probably occurred because we had reached the limitations of the
‘searchlights’ model. Jim Rose quoted the 2002 OFSTED report which stated
that this model ‘has not been effective enough in terms of illustrating
where the intensity of the searchlights should fall at different stages of
learning to read. While the full range of strategies is used by fluent
readers, beginning readers need to learn how to decode effortlessly, using
their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and the skills of blending
them together’. The ‘searchlights’ model confounded decoding and
The ‘simple view’ of reading should take
us forward, but it will not do so unless teachers understand it. We need to
train well and monitor progress – we owe it to children and parents to do so.
‘We’ll never get away with lack of accountability – nor should we.’
Jim Rose stressed the importance of
knowledge and skills. Just as numbers are the ‘alphabet’ of maths (they just
have to be taught and learnt), so, too, the knowledge and skills needed for
reading need to be taught and learnt. He mentioned how his grandfather had
started teaching him to read in the 1940s, using the words ‘Jim Rose sat on a
pin Jim rose’! Parents and grandparents can be an enormous advantage. But what
if they can’t help? The school must then do it all.
The features of high quality phonic work
are as follows:
·Grapheme-phoneme correspondences [are] taught in
a clearly defined incremental sequence
·[the child] blends phonemes all through the word
in the order they appear to read words
·[the child] segments words into their
constituent phonemes to spell
·short, discrete, daily sessions [are] taught
within a broad and rich curriculum
·[the work is] multi-sensory, engaging, enjoyable
·[the phonic work is] time limited – the balance changes from ‘learning to read to
reading to learn’.
There are different programmes, but they
work on similar principles. The final Rose report had stated, ‘The common
elements in each [systematic] programme – those that really make a difference
to how well beginner readers are taught and learn to read and write – are few
Given the nature of research it is likely
that there will be a continuing robust debate about reading and aspects of
phonic work. The Rose team had been impressed as much by practice as by
research. Why make it difficult for teachers by overplaying uncertainties in
research in a way that makes them ‘keep all the plates spinning’ when one
approach is obviously at least as good as, if not better than, others?
The Rose review had implications for
·Those who teach beginner readers need to
understand the principles of high-quality phonic work, including the simple
view of reading
·It is important that initial teacher training
institutions (ITT) and other providers ensure that the principles are reflected
in their training
·The Primary National Strategy team and the
Teacher Development Agency need to undertake joint work to offer support for
ITT on the review recommendations.
Jim Rose finished his presentation with a
joke about ‘the power of the phoneme’: an extract from a church bulletin which
ran, ‘This evening at
there will be hymn singing in the park across from the church. Bring a blanket
and come prepared to sin.’
During questions, he mentioned visiting a
school in Bristol
where boys were reading and writing particularly well and enjoying it. Children
were taking pride in the fact that they could read – success was its own
reward. A comment from the floor by Marlynne Grant made it clear that this
school was St Michael’s (see Newsletter 52) where children have poor language
skills on entry. Jim Rose also mentioned that the electronic framework,
available since early October, was not perfect in every respect – it can be changed. In response to a point
made from the floor that Key Stage 2 teachers, as well as KS1 teachers, needed
to be trained to teach phonics, he said that the ‘time-limited’ nature of
phonic work does not mean ‘turning the tap off’ – ‘all primary teachers need to
know why and how to teach it’.
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