Debbie Hepplewhite has spotted some interesting comments in a report of an inspection carried out in Malmesbury Church of England Primary School in February 2004.
‘The recently introduced “Jolly Phonics” programme has already made a good impact on children’s reading, spelling and writing ability. ... Children can be seen and heard applying the strategies during free reading and writing activities as well as guided sessions with staff’ (Para. 55).
These children’s application of phonics knowledge in free and guided reading contrasts with the more general picture found by both OFSTED and the NLS team. In its report The National Literacy Strategy: the first four years 1998-2002, OFSTED commented on ‘insufficient emphasis on teaching word- and sentence-level objectives, especially the application of phonic knowledge and skills’ in guided reading (p. 11). In the paper ‘Teaching phonics in the National Literacy Strategy’, the NLS team made a similar comment: ‘...too many teachers under-emphasise the application of phonics in the teaching of continuous reading’ (p. 14, underlining original). Why do synthetic phonics children apply their phonics knowledge in continuous reading more than other children do? It is surely because synthetic phonics teaches the alphabetic code in ways which make its application in text-reading very clear, whereas the NLS does not. Why would children use sounding out and blending for word-identification in guided reading when the NLS expects them to blend only after words have been identified? (See Newsletter 51, p. 17).
OFSTED’s report on Malmesbury School also comments: ‘Many other pupils, particularly those in Years 3 to 6, are still at basic levels and are not using phonics (letter sounds) and other strategies to help themselves with their reading. This is because they have not been taught the correct strategies consistently in the past’ (paras. 64-5).
The fact that the older children had ‘not been not taught the correct strategies consistently in the past’ implies that NLS strategies had failed these Year 3-6 children: it was surely these NLS strategies that the school had taught before it introduced Jolly Phonics.