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

RRF Newsletter 46 back to contents
The Jolly Phonics Story Part 2 Sue Lloyd

The first part of this story was printed in the last newsletter. It described the way the teaching method evolved at Woods Loke Primary School in the 1970's and how this had influenced the reading results. The children were now scoring an average quotient of 110+ on the Young Reading Test, and best of all there were far fewer children below 90.

Naturally we were excited to see the children learning to read and write so much more easily than before. The huge improvement on the standardised test just confirmed what we had seen with our eyes. I really expected that an LEA adviser would notice this enormous improvement and would want to know if we had done anything different in our teaching. When nobody showed interest, I decided to let the advisers know about our new phonic method of teaching, and invited them to come and see for themselves. Again there was no response.  This worried and puzzled me. Why were they not interested in something that was so good for the children?

Some time later, having recovered from the disappointment, I decided to try again. In the meantime I had become more aware that the teaching of phonics, not to mention the use of the initial teaching alphabet, was absolutely taboo. The influence of Whole Language and Real Books was well on the way. I was also very aware that children coming into our school from other schools generally had no idea about how the alphabetic code worked and were considerably behind our children, even though they frequently seemed more intelligent. When there was still no response from our adviser, I went to our local MP and explained what was happening. After that, the adviser did sweep in, took a cursory look at the children's books, and departed with what was to become the usual cry, 'You must have very good teachers.' This, of course, made no sense at all. We had all experienced the improvement and knew that we could not have suddenly become these wonderful teachers!   It also taught me that the education system was not run on logic but on fashionable trends. The adviser saw her role as promoting the latest ideas – she went through the motions of looking at what we were doing but saw nothing.

Soon after this, I was sent to the Centre for the Teaching of Reading at the University of Reading School of Education for a month's course on 'Extending Reading'. I think they hoped that I would see the error of my ways. Many ideas about developing higher order reading skills in the lectures were very good. This was fine for those children who could read. What I wanted to know was how they dealt with the children who had not even managed to acquire the lower order reading skills. Apart from one teacher, nobody cared about these children. They all disapproved of phonics and dismissed our good results with phrases like 'We all know they can score well on tests but they don't understand the meaning of what they are reading', or 'You are taking the joy of reading away from the children. You put them off books for life' etc. On the few occasions when they seemed to be losing the argument, they just turned their backs on me. This came as a shock. In the end I started to feel that I must be wrong. Perhaps I had been like the soldier marching out of step who was under the misapprehension that he was right and all the others were wrong! On returning to school, I thought about the things I had heard at The Centre for the Teaching of Reading, and looked carefully at the children. The majority of our children easily understood what they were reading and they loved their books: certainly more so than the children from other schools. It was just nonsense and something needed to be done about it.

Many years passed. Nobody from the LEA came near us. Whenever I met anyone connected with education, I told them that it was not necessary to have so many children failing to read and write.

The problems were caused by the lack of systematic, synthetic phonics. One day, at an educational meeting, I met Christopher Jolly.  He listened to me, and wanted to find out more.  

More about Chris Jolly and Jolly Phonics in the next edition of the RRF Newsletter.   


Editor’s comment:

I, for one, am both fascinated and appalled by Sue’s unfolding story. We need to ascertain exactly what role our LEAs actually fulfil, because many of us have turned to leading figures in an educative way only to be ignored and/or our findings rejected. Advisers and inspectors are not necessarily all wise and all knowing. They should be prepared to learn from others, and modify their views and practices like the rest of us. Surely common sense and conscience should transcend remits and policies? And what about the overwhelming evidence…?




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