Blogger 'Old Andrew' gives excellent support for SP

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Susan Godsland
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Blogger 'Old Andrew' gives excellent support for SP

Post by Susan Godsland » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:20 pm

'oldandrew' is a hero :grin: Scroll right down to responses 116 -> where he gets into the evidence for synthetic phonics. ... d-schools/

BTW, here's Old Andrew's blog: 'Scenes from the Battleground'
I am a teacher who has worked in several tough secondary schools. I love teaching, and I am particularly keen to teach students in deprived areas where education can really make a difference. However, I am utterly dissatisfied with how British schools, and indeed the entire education system is run. I see schools as systematically failing those who need them most. This blog is a record of how I see education in the UK.

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Re: Blogger 'Old Andrew' gives excellent support for SP

Post by g.carter » Fri Dec 03, 2010 10:03 am

Thanks Susan. Old Andrews' blog isn't given enough exposure here. Have a look, also, at
http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.c ... nal-needs/

and the responses.

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Susan Godsland
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Location: Exeter UK

Re: Blogger 'Old Andrew' gives excellent support for SP

Post by Susan Godsland » Mon Dec 06, 2010 3:34 pm

I've got permission from 'Old Andrew' to reproduce his postings re. synthetic phonics evidence-base from the Liberal Conspiracy website thread: ... d-schools/

His posts on the subject of SP were in reply to 'Thomas'. Please go to the original thread to read his posts as I don't have his permission to copy them here.

117. oldandrew


Vague accusations of “conflicts of interest” (as opposed to identifying any actual fault in the research) sounds about right for the opponents of synthetic phonics. The research is pretty overwhelming.

120. oldandrew


You’ll have to specify exactly what you want phonics compared to in order to get details of evidence, although if you are just focusing on synthetic versus analytic phonics the best evidence is here: ... 023582.pdf

I’m not sure either of your links provide much of a critique of the evidence. The first seems to have no evidence at all, the second seems to suggest that it is unfair to compare analytic and synthetic phonics if the analytic phonics group aren’t taught synthetic phonics too. As a criticism it harldy undermines the effectiveness of synthetic phonics.

122. oldandrew


Synthetic phonics is learning what sounds letters and groups of letter make before placing them in words. Analytic phonics is learning what sounds they make only when they are in words. They are about the order you do things, therefore a hybrid system really doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

The DFES-commissioned review of phonics the Guardian talks about appears to be Torgerson (2006) which refused to consider non-randomised studies but did include tiny non-peer reviewed studies. This skewed the research severely, but even then it only enabled the authors to refuse to reach a conclusion rather than to suggest that phonics were shown not to be best. (And this was about comparing phonics and non-phonics, not about synthetic versus analytic phonics). Possibly this approach might be suitable for an extreme sceptic to avoid taking any position on any educational issue, but from the point of view of a rational policy maker the evidence for phonics remains overwhelming.

With regard to the BREJ, the complaint is that in the trial comparing analytic and synthetic phonics the analytic phonics did not do enough to teach the sounds independently of their position in the words. Given that this is what synthetic phonics does, then this is a bizarre complaint, as I pointed out, it amounts to complaining that there wasn’t enough synthetic phonics in the analytic phonics method.

The rest of the case against synthetic phonics in that article consists of Togerson which deliberately ignored most evidence, and cross language studies which were not primarily about comparing synthetic phonics with other methods but about comparing phonics methods with phonics in other languages.

When I said the evidence was overwhleming I did not mean to suggest that nobody could cherry-pick evidence the other way, what I meant was that they could not do it without it being blatantly obvious that this is what they were doing. I stand by that claim.

125. oldandrew


The point about the difference between analytic and synthetic phonics is how explicitly you teach the sounds. A complaint that in a comparison between the two, then the teaching of analytic phonics did not make explicit the fact that letters make the same sounds in different parts of words is little more than a complaint that it wasn’t enough like synthetic phonics. Can you not see how dubious this is as grounds for ignoring a key piece of evidence for synthetic over analytic phonics? What recommendation would you give teachers based on this interpretation of the evidence? Teach synthetic phonics but it’s okay if at times it has some features of analytic phonics, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the synthetic phonics which is the essential part?

128. oldandrew


The ad hominem arguments were:

“you are wedded to synthetic phonics independently of the evidence”


“you see a lot of this kind of stuff from people who want to promote quack remedies like homeopathy”

Although you now appear to be adding to it with accusations of aggression and bad temper.

130. oldandrew


With regard to the “jumbling, that isn’t a personal attack, it is a way of trying to make this discussion readable. As things stand I think some of our longer comments have probably been close to incomprehensible to anybody not familiar with the sources we were discussing, and I think the two separate questions:

1) Are systematic phonics the best way to teach reading?

2) Are synthetic phonics better than analytic phonics?

need to be clearly separated. You have repeatedly drawn attention to sources arguing about point 1) despite the fact that at other points you appear to agree with me about it. It is not helping that as well as muddling the two questions you seem to be resorting to a lot of ad hominems and commentary as well. Now you can take this as personal criticism if you like, but if you don’t stop doing this then discussion becomes close to incomprehensible. Certainly, in 126 you appear to have written 14 paragraphs in which I think the only arguments that address the evidence base for point 2) are:

a) a claim that you don’t care what question research was set up to answer, you will draw inferences from a failure to answer the question anyway


b) the straw man that I think the Lanarckshire [Clackmannanshire] research is better because it is new, as opposed to better because it was deliberately designed to investigate the question at hand.

Have I missed something? On their own these seem like particularly weak arguments so I would prefer it if you could state clearly whether these are the only points you are making and if not, to clarify what I’ve missed.

With regard to my cherry-picking claim, I am not being casual or partisan with this criticism at all. Just to be clear, the BREJ article and the Guardian article between them refer only to:

1) A meta-analysis that compared *all* methods but didn’t demonstrate a statistically significant synthetic versus analytics difference.

2) A “meta-analysis” that ignored most of the evidence-base on the grounds of a non-randomisation criteria, but included small unpublished studies, and then concluded that there was not enough evidence to conclude anything about anything.

3) Individual studies which were not about synthetics versus analytics, but happened to include results hostile to synthetics (although not necessarily pro-analytics).

It seems to me that there are obvious problems with 2) and 3) and it should seem that way to you. There seems no reason to accept the methodology of 2) other than as a way to eliminate inconvenient evidence and thus reach no conclusion. Certainly you cannot get away with suggesting it was merely excluding poor quality trials. 3) is obviously just cherry-picking and it shocks me you’d even defend it.

I accept 1) is reputable evidence for its time, but the whole point of the Lanarckshire [Clackmannanshire] studies were that they looked directly at the question the NRP wasn’t able to answer. To throw out the Lanarkshire [Clackmannanshire] study is to do nothing more than ignore the best evidence we have on the question. It needs more justification than a quibble about its analytic phonics being too analytic.

With regard to your request for a meta-analysis – you still haven’t said what question you want it to answer. If you want meta-analyses that demonstrate systematic phonics is the best method, you have already referred to one and it really won’t be difficult to find others. If you want a meta-analysis just for synthetics versus analytics then I admit that would be problematic as it is something that has only recently been looked at in isolation and we would rely on the Lanarckshire [Clackmannashire] studies, but the results from that comparison were overwhelming.

Now I assume from the ad hominems that you realise that you are grasping at straws, but if you do get back to me, can you be utterly precise as to which hypothesis you are doubting (the advantages of systematic phonics or the advantages of synthetic over analytic phonics), precisely what evidence you think gives reason to doubt the hypothesis, whether that evidence represents research designed to directly address that hypothesis, and whether the evidence contradicts the hypothesis or simply gives no reason to conclude one way or the other.

I think if you were clear about this, instead of jumbling everything together, it would be pretty obvious how weak your argument is and how utterly misplaced your lectures to me about empirical method are.

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