I receive many comments from teachers in schools around the country and around the world, many of them have mentioned issues which we are highlighting in this thread. One common issue is teachers in schools in England commonly telling us that they are receiving different kinds of 'advice' from Ofsted
inspectors compared to local authority advisors compared to synthetic phonics trainers or programme authors. In other words, the picture is building up that teachers are receiving lots of mixed messages.
If programme authors themselves are providing training and resources designed on the basis of simple, explicit, routine teaching and learning practices based on research and leading-edge practice, and the inspectors and various advisors who have direct 'authority' over schools then give a different message about peripheral/extraneous activities (and indoor and outdoor phonics), where does this leave the poor teachers?
And, actually, where does this leave the programme authors and trainers of those programmes?
One such school in Special Measures described exactly the scenario above where the teachers went overboard on some 'all singing, all dancing' kind of phonics provision for the purpose of their Ofsted
inspection and the Ofsted
inspector criticised, for example, their use of 'sound buttons' in Year One - saying that children should not be using them at this stage -and the Ofsted
inspector actually did seem to be looking for greater rigour and expectation. However, following the inspection, the local authority 'phonics' advisor came to observe and complained that there was not enough phonics outside and through playing. The essence of both types of advice was contradictory and the teachers are left feeling demoralised and confused as to what they should 'provide' for the best. The latest Ofsted
videos, however, would not appear to be backing up the Ofsted
inspector's requirement for rigour and expectation - but are closer to the kind of advice offered by the local authority phonics advisor.
No doubt the programme authors and trainers offer a third type of guidance based specifically on their programmes. The teachers will have to make their own minds up based on informed choice - but how many, when under pressure, will follow the official advisory/inspectorial people at the expense of the training and resources based on the programmes themselves?
I also have examples of schools very happily following a programme's approach which was then undermined by local authority advisors who thought they were delivering the message expected, no doubt, by early years advisors and inspectors. It really is a bit of a pickle - but with the dangers of the execution of systematic synthetic phonics programmes (and linguistic phonics programmes) being undermined by 'others' - which, arguably, may reduce the best possible results.
As always, it is the weakest children who will suffer the most because even pink and fluffy phonics teaching may be sufficient to get the majority of children up and running seemingly well enough for reading and spelling.
If local authority advisors watched the Ofsted
video clips (and they are the most likely group to watch them), then I suggest they may be seriously led down the route of outside phonics, phonics through games, periphery phonics - rather than core, simple, routine, direct and explicit teaching AND core, simple, routine, direct and fit-for-purpose practice.
Here is an example of a comment that I did not solicit, from someone who has already raised the subject of the video clips with me:
First the Ofsted clips. Too many things to comment on really. It really is things like this that are the catalyst to so many problems. Teachers are not necessarily looking at them to improve their teaching but look for clues to see what Ofsted want to see when they arrive. Then regardless of good/poor examples these are then replicated in classrooms in the hope that Ofsted will be happy. Headteachers look at them and judge their teachers on them. Schools then have paid 'advisors' in who look at them and say that we are 'requiring improvement' if we don't teach phonics or whatever with parachutes....
It makes me wonder how good other information is.
I had another lesson observation this week and my area for improvement was the use of the outside area during phonics!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Just to set the picture further, the school has already achieved outstanding phonics results in their early years - and yet are now subject to pressures to move them down the route of the outdoor phonics and so on.
I have many more examples of the confusion and mixed messages taking place in our schools - and in our universities.