In her final editorial (Newsletter 59 Autumn term 2006), Jenny Chew wrote:
“It remains to be seen how faithfully the recommendations of the Rose review will be implemented.”
Well, Spring is here, and it’s now time to have a look at the green shoots and early buds and see if they augur well for the future!
Certainly, at grassroots level, there looks to be plenty to celebrate. We have two reports from schools which have been using a synthetic phonics approach and experiencing tremendous success. In my own local authority a huge number of Primaries have received training in a synthetic phonics programme and begun implementing it in their schools. This enthusiasm has been generated by teachers going to visit ‘pioneering’ schools in the authority and by the personal commitment shown by one of the Local Authority (LA) advisers, determined to ensure the Rose recommendations on the teaching of early reading should be spread widely and teachers given the support they needed to implement them.
The government has, rightly, put the onus on practitioners to choose a commercial programme to deliver good quality phonics teaching in their schools and placements, evaluating it against a set of criteria as to what constitutes a good synthetic phonics scheme. Its own programme Letters and Sounds, although arguably overdue, will be with us soon and is certainly something the RRF looks forward to seeing. It is worrying that, as predicted, many existing commercial schemes are re-branding themselves as ‘synthetic’ and ‘fully in line with the Rose Report’. There are bound to be lots of new materials on the market making similar claims. We should remain positive that, if they are of good quality then the availability of increased numbers of, for example, decodable texts will be of great benefit to teachers and their pupils. We should also remain on the look out for the genuine ‘snake oil’ merchants!
It may be Spring, but the teaching climate remains decidedly frosty in some areas, where the teaching of early reading is concerned, notably the Early Years establishment. The recent letter in the Times Educational Supplement, signed by 100 Early Years “experts” and “advisers”, leads one to believe that there are still large numbers of whole language woolly mammoths stuck in the permafrost, refusing to budge. The RRF has heard from worrying numbers of early years teachers who have been leaned on by early years advisers, and made to feel that by ‘doing phonics’ they were in some way harming their children.
These advisers need to be exposed and made accountable for trying to bully fellow professionals and undermine the Rose Report’s recommendations. Accountability is something almost entirely lacking in the education world at present. Debbie Hepplewhite presents a case study on how her local authority refused to engage with her over the issue of the intervention programme Catch Up and its specific use with 10 children. The implications for all of us in how she, and others, were dealt with raise serious questions about the state of our democracy.
If the signs are good in mainstream provision, with synthetic phonics bursting into bloom up and down the land, the same cannot be said for those poor children who will be ending up in one of the ‘government recommended’ intervention programmes. Perversely, the government has decided to put its energy into promoting Reading Recovery as its preferred catch up programme, despite it being widely discredited and hugely expensive. We include reviews by two RRF committee members on both Reading Recovery and the Oxford Brooks Catch Up intervention programmes, neither of which would pass muster when held against a synthetic phonics approach kite mark! This raises the question, why would anyone hoping to nourish and nurture their tender synthetic seedlings then tread on them with hobnail boots!
Finally, as the editorship changes hands, we would like to thank Jenny Chew warmly for the outstanding job she did in her period as editor, in sometimes very trying circumstances. ‘With your knowledge, patience and great sense of fairness you really have been a shining example to us all. Thank you for all your hard work.’