As I take over the editorship of the newsletter my expressions of thanks to my two predecessors, Mona McNee and Debbie Hepplewhite, are more than a formality. Mona started the newsletter in 1989 and kept it going almost single-handed until 2001. Debbie then took over, gave it a new look, and persuaded more people than before to contribute. Unfortunately, there came a point at which she could no longer combine the editing with her very arduous ‘day-job’, although she is continuing to deal with some aspects of production and distribution for which I am most grateful. She and Mona deserve great credit for giving us a publication which goes down well at the grass-roots level but is also increasingly making an impact at higher levels – sometimes as an irritant, because of the way that it challenges official thinking, but sometimes as a source of valuable information.
A key part of the Newsletter’s function, as I see it, is to go on trying to bridge the gap between reputable research findings and classroom practice. In putting each Newsletter on the RRF website as soon as it is published so that people all over the world have access to it without charge, we are doing something which is unusual for publications of this sort. I believe, however, that this policy is right in view of the importance of getting good phonics teaching back into classrooms throughout the English-speaking world.
In this issue, Chris Jolly’s article refers to the fact that there is more research support for synthetic phonics than for the type of approach embodied in the National Literacy Strategy (NLS). Marlynne Grant’s article deals with the research which she has carried out over a six-year period at St Michael’s School, Stoke Gifford. Her findings mesh in well with the five-year Clackmannanshire study, some details of which are available on the RRF website. In both cases, the beneficial effects of an initial burst of good synthetic phonics teaching in the first year of school are still evident several years later, with levels of reading and spelling well above national averages and boys doing at least as well as girls. These findings were referred to by Lord Quirk in a recent debate in the House of Lords (see page 16). Lord Quirk is a top international authority on the English language and it is good to have him supporting phonics. The ‘Dead Horse Syndrome’ piece is not specifically about research or the practicalities of teaching reading, but Newsletter readers will no doubt find it relevant as well as amusing. Sue Lloyd’s ‘Learning to read and write: fashion or fact’ article touches on similar points: too many of the horses which the NLS is attempting to flog into action are in fact dead. This issue ends with Debbie Hepplewhite’s article on the confused relationship between the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1.
Years ago, someone who had made a significant contribution to the reading debate told me that he felt rather as he had done when he used to play rugby at school: out of a welter of flying boots and mud, he would see the ball, grab it, and make as much ground as possible with it. In the RRF, we are conscious of the flying mud and boots, but we all try to contribute to the team effort by running with the ball when we can. We are making progress, and can only hope that someone will emerge, whether or not from our ranks, and score that drop-goal which finally clinches victory for research and common sense in the teaching of reading to beginners!