I have been communicating with John Redwood, my MP, and one of his staff, as the formally correct way to interact with the DfE. I passed on my proposal that the Phonics Check and KS1 results should be used to identify different achievement by schools with intakes of similar socio-economic status, that Ofsted should study the methods used by the more successful schools to teach reading and that staff from the less successful schools should be invited to observe them. The staff member has passed them on, and Mr Redwood has sent me a letter from Michael Gove that refers me to some internet accessible documents describing DfE policy on the teaching of reading. These are "two published reports available on the GOV.UK web site" that are part of "a three-year longitudinal evaluation of the introduction of the Phonics Screening Check"; "the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Toolkit, which is available online at http://tinyurl.com/my37xc5"; and "a report entitled: 'Reading by six: how the best schools do it', which is available on [the Ofsted] website". The two reports describe what the DfE is currently doing by way of analysis, which I find much less than what they could be doing with the data. The EEF and Ofsted documents are presumably the most recent "how-to" guides to teachers that DfE has produced.
The two published reports on the Phonics Checks of 2012 and 2013 are the stimulus for paragraph 4.1 of my proposed email in the thread "Email to the Education Select Committee" last January. I recall, but am unable to find, posting to this forum that I found in these reports substantial (and disquieting) information on teacher attitudes to phonics and to the Check but no statistics relating results to teachers' conformity to the principles of the SP method they purported to be using.
To guide my evaluation of the EEF and Ofsted documents, I have composed a short list of features of good Systematic Synthetic Phonics teaching that I would expect, as a result of reading here and elsewhere, to be included in a guide:
1. Teachers, subject leaders for literacy and, if possible, heads should have training in the chosen scheme.
2. In K and R1, the Simple View of Reading is a good approximation to the process.
3. Mixing context, pictures, word outlines and sight-words with SP is counter-productive.
4. Texts that children are expected to read without assistance should contain only correspondences that they know. Until decoding is fluent, they should be expected to read "real books" only in assisted reading.
I found the EEF Toolkit misleading and post a substantial extract from it here. Italicized sentences are followed by my comments in square brackets:
"Moderate impact for very low cost, based on extensive evidence.
"What is it?
"Phonics is an approach to teaching reading, and some aspects of writing, by developing learners’ phonemic awareness. This involves the skills of hearing, identifying and using phonemes or sound patterns in English. The aim is to teach learners the relationship between these sounds and the written spelling patterns or graphemes which represent them. Phonics emphasises the skills of decoding new words by sounding them out and combining or ‘blending’ the sound-spelling patterns.
"How effective is it?
"Phonics approaches have been consistently found to be effective in supporting younger readers to master the basics of reading. The approach tends to be more effective than other approaches to early reading (such as whole language or alphabetic approaches), though it should be emphasised that effective phonics techniques are usually embedded in a rich literacy environment for early readers and only one part of a successful literacy strategy. For older readers (above Year 5) who are struggling, phonics approaches may be less successful, producing less or no impact and other approaches such as comprehension focused methods may be more effective. [This is appropriate only if they are struggling with comprehension. It will be interpreted as an endorsement of mixed methods for decoding.] In particular, using age appropriate material is likely to be more successful. [A similar mistake. They need knowledge matched correspondences, interest matched content (if you can find it).] Furthermore upper primary and lower secondary readers may benefit more from strategy instruction or Meta-cognitive and self-regulation strategies to improve their reading skills. [Please will someone who is familiar with these techniques comment on their place in learning to decode.]
"The research suggests that phonics is beneficial for younger learners as they begin to read (4-7 year olds). It is less likely to be helpful for older, less successful learners. [Does any of you believe that?.] Qualified teachers tend to get better results (up to twice the effectiveness of others), suggesting that their expertise is a key component of successful teaching of early reading.
"How secure is the evidence?
"There have been a number of studies, reviews and meta-analyses which have consistently found that the systematic teaching of phonics is beneficial. There is some evidence that particular approaches such as synthetic phonics may be more beneficial than analytic approaches, however the evidence here is less secure and it is probably more important to match the teaching to children’s particular needs and systematically teach the sound patterns with which they are not yet confident.
The remainder of this document is better, including a consideration of training costs. However, nowhere in it do I find the Simple View, nor the need to match texts to knowledge of correspondences, while some of the above seems to invite teachers to use mixed methods.
"Reading by six"
This one is better, though still not as good as it could be. The meat of it is a description of the methods used by 12 schools, successful to the extent that all but two of them get 90% or more of their pupils to level 2C in KS1 reading; the worst gets 84%.
The descriptions of each school's method is rather sparse; several of them use Letters and Sounds (L&S), which means that their choice of decodable texts to match the order of teaching correspondences is of interest, but this is not always given. Bourne Abbey uses ReadWriteInc (RWI) with decodable books from Oxford Reading Tree (ORT). Is this a good match? Fairlawn uses L&S, no decodables named. Kingsley uses Letterland and L&S. Does Letterland include decodables? St Clare's and St Richard's both use Jolly Phonics (JP) and L&S with ORT, to which the first adds New Way and the second Ginn 360; no reason is given for the mixture. Thomas Jones uses JP, LS and Rigby Star. The remainder use RWI by itself. Old Ford values the use of "high frequency words" (see P 28) but it is not clear how much time the children spend learning them.
Ofsted's recommendations follow the schools descriptions. "Simple view" does not occur. "High frequency words" occurs on p. 28, with a mild warning, on p. 33 descriptively, and on p. 42 where they are recommended for "words that do not conform completely to grapheme-phoneme correspondence rules." "Real books" are mentioned on pp. 10, 21 and 39. I found no indication that they would be used at a particular stage or kept back until an adequate number of correspondences were known. The point was made that the books would be banded but only for general difficulty.
I would be grateful for comments on these documents and permission to quote them in my next instalment to DfE.
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"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6
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