The government has told us that schools
have to choose a high-quality phonics programme. Programme writers are now
waiting to be chosen!
At Kobi Nazrul, where Ruth Miskin was head
teacher, children were taught letters and sounds in the nursery. Constant
repetition is needed to make sure that all children ‘get it’. Schools need to
decide who is in charge. The same programme can produce very different results
in different schools. The head needs to choose a ‘partner in relentlessness’.
All the children who are not fluent readers need to be assessed – are they ABT
(‘ain’t been taught’) or SEN (Special Educational Needs)?
In an Islington school of 400, 120 children
were on the SEN register. 115 of these could not read. The SEN co-ordinator was
so busy filling in Individual Education Plans that she had no time to teach
them. Comments would be made such as ‘He needs to learn his sounds’. Ruth’s
response was ‘Then teach them!’
Schools often want children on the SEN register: the more children it has
there, the more excuse it has in OFSTED inspections. In two months, Ruth
managed to get 80 children off the register.
While children are learning to decode, they
need to put all their effort into that. Until they can read, they cannot read
to learn. Children need to be grouped according to ability. Even in Reception,
they should be grouped after half a term. By Year 3, there is a very wide
range: at one end are the Harry Potter readers – at the other end are children
who cannot read. Children do not mind being grouped, and they can get ‘switched
on’ so quickly that they can move to a higher group almost overnight. The
closer the homogeneity in the group, the faster the progress.
When a school implements Ruth’s Read-Write Inc. programme, the
head-teacher needs to be involved. The school must also have a RWI manager, RWI
teachers, RWI teaching assistants (who work one-to-one with children) and
‘ten-minute tutors’. The school should not wait before giving a failing child
help. The school needs to coach, support and monitor.
a synthetic phonics programme is not enough – the programme needs to be done
properly. Ruth requires
- Participation (children
need to be ‘full on’ all the way through the lesson).
- Positive teaching
- Passion (If you
don’t have it, ‘fake it till you make it!’)
Teaching needs to be relentless.