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

RRF Newsletter 60 back to contents
A-Head of the Game!

Lorna Jackson, Head Teacher of Maryland Primary in Newham, answers questions about the impact of implementing a whole-school synthetic phonics approach well in advance of the Rose Report:

 

  • There is massive opposition to what is seen by some to be “formal teaching” in Early Years, with many ‘experts’ and ‘advisers’ opposed to introducing the teaching of reading until children reach the age of 6, as in countries like Finland. Remember the big petition that appeared in the TES recently? In Maryland, you’ve decided to go for it in the Nursery! Can you describe what you actually teach in your Foundation Stage, what the outcomes so far have been, and why you, as a school have decided to start teaching reading to your Nursery and Reception children early on and not wait until they’re older?

 

What we teach: In Nursery we teach a very early stage of synthetic phonics through song, rhyme, talk (e.g. children’s names), mirror play and incidental activities etc so that children learn the first 31 sounds. By the time they leave Nursery most children know the first 31 sounds and have begun to blend orally. We only teach this to Rising 5 Nursery pupils. By the time they enter Reception they are developing secure phonological skills in preparation for reading and writing. In Reception they are taught phonics in small homogenous groups through a systematic programme. The impact can be seen in our Profile results which are higher than Newham’s and the National average. The Profiles were moderated by Newham.

Wait till older? By the time our pupils are 6 they have acquired the skills for reading and writing, including punctuation and comprehension and can decode confidently. They are ready to learn these skills at an early age (Rose Report).

 

  • How would you answer the criticisms made that it is very expensive to buy in all the resources needed to implement synthetic phonics and train all your staff and that “snake oil merchants” stand to make a lot of money out of schools?

 

Initial outlay is expensive, e.g. the manuals and reading stock, but that would be the same with any other structured programme. Maintenance costs of materials, (e.g. replacement of workbooks) is as manageable and affordable as with any other scheme. Training is over 2 days which is another initial outlay but can be covered by advanced careful budgeting (e.g. use of standards fund for curriculum development) and creative use of SEN money (as it also caters as a remedial scheme,) as well as using EAL money if pushed. It was a priority to raise standards for all our children; so was a School Development Plan priority with staff and governors support, so the money was well spent and an investment in our children’s future.

As for snake oil: every scheme is a commercial venture. Our scheme is not ‘free’ from the government but we are willing to pay for a strategy that has had a huge impact on our pupils’ learning and my staff’s effectiveness. We budget yearly to update training for staff.

 

  • You are three years ahead of nearly every other school in the country. What have been some of the unexpected or unforeseen outcomes of introducing a whole school, synthetic phonics, systematic approach? What can we expect to look forward to?

 

It is not a ‘how do you spell…?’ lesson anymore. We are now able to teach the skills of subjects like ICT, History, Geography etc without children being held back by lack of literacy skills. No queues of children – all children can work independently and in partners, collaborative learning. We have fulfilled the personalised learning agenda by providing for every child’s needs. Behaviour has improved, there’s a calmer environment, management strategies that save voice, time and stress (e.g. hand signal, no hands up, 1,2,3 movement system), continuity throughout the school, reward systems, reduced planning giving more time for quality preparation, shared ethos, staff expectations raised.

 

  • How have you managed to keep the momentum going and the enthusiasm fresh amongst the staff delivering the programme?

 

This is driven by the Leadership team; continuous training, programme manager is out of class and available for close monitoring, rewards and praise for tutors and pupils, governors constantly involved through visits & HT reports, parents kept up to date via monthly newsletter, parent classes in 6 week blocks to train them on how the programme runs and to support pupils with their homework, never a budget shortage/lack of resources, always kept as priority in school (e.g. Trips Week organised for whole school so programme not disturbed), displays (e.g. Fred’s World), cover tutors on standby, rml (Ruth Miskin Literacy) board in staffroom to keep staff updated and to offer constant praise as children progress, share ‘celebrations’, rml ‘health checks’ from outside provider.

 

  • Are there any things, looking back, that you would have done differently?

 

 

The programme manager is more effective if non-class based. I would have taken her out of class at the start of the programme if I had to do it again.

 

  • What has this done for creativity in your school?

 

Teacher and tutors are encouraged to bring the programme alive, e.g. dressing up, children dressing up, using 3D/real life resources, bringing Fred to life in various ways, displays, activities linked to stories, e.g. planting vegetables, making snacks, etc. Rewards and celebrations are getting more and more interesting, e.g. linking to what is topical in the media and various cultures. Tutors have more time to be creative due to reduced planning demands.

 

  • How has teaching all children to read impacted on special needs and on behaviour? Do you use any other programmes or approaches with your “Wave 3” children? Do you have any “Wave 3” children!?

 

We do one-one work instead in the afternoons for children who need extra support. This is also a planned programme closely monitored by the programme manager and SENCO. None of our pupils now leave Maryland ‘functionally illiterate’! There are no behaviour issues during the sessions.

 

  • What impact has using this approach had on EAL pupils and newly-arrived mid-phase admissions, as some advisers maintain that synthetic phonics does not allow enough time for an emphasis on speaking and listening?

 

EAL pupils are achieving better than Newham average. Ofsted has validated the high achievement of our mid-phase and EAL/EMA pupils (see report Nov 06). We have also had a letter of praise and acknowledgement from the LA’s Head of the Inclusion Team, Barbara Burke, on the high achievement of these pupils. Mid-phase admissions are assessed on their day of entry and by the next day are placed in appropriate group according to their ability. Collaborative learning is fundamental to the programme so there are far more speaking and listening opportunities than there were before.

 

  • Do you have a gender gap?

 

No, research done by a University of East London graduate in 2005 showed there were no differences in boys’/girls’ achievement. Also PANDA data validates this.

 

  • How have boys responded to the structured sessions?

 

Very well. Boys respond well to active partner work, total engagement, enjoyment due to interesting texts which are written with boys in mind (mischievous stories), pace of session, consistency – no gaps to fall through to de-motivate, children know exactly what to expect, can use aids such as grapheme charts independently, all learning styles taken into account and catered for, celebrations, structure reduces ‘down time’. Working at their level ensures achievement which is fulfilling and boosts self-esteem.

 

  • There’s lots of talk about learning styles and personalised learning. How does this agenda fit with your school’s approach to the teaching of reading?

 

It is the epitome of personalised learning, a complete match for all learning styles!

 

  • What has been the most satisfying aspect, for you, of your three years of being a ‘rebel and outcast’?!

 

Watching children achieve to their full potential and beyond some people’s expectations. Being vindicated – opposition in some cases has now turned to admiration and support. Having influenced so many other would-be rebels. No longer having to keep phonics in the closet!

 

  • Have you any data you would be willing to share?

 

Our KS1 SATs results 2006: 83% of pupils who had received rml from YR achieved level 2+

 

In Foundation Stage, the end of year result has climbed steadily since 2003 to CLL (Communication, Language and Literacy) average Scale Points of 7.3 in 2006, now 28% above the Newham average. In addition, the number of pupils leaving Reception with 8SPs in CLL or more has risen dramatically to 35% in 2006, well above both the national and LA average.

 

 

 

 

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