Another attack on synthetic phonics

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chew8
Posts: 4152
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2003 6:26 pm

Another attack on synthetic phonics

Post by chew8 » Sat Mar 17, 2018 12:32 pm

A fellow RRFer has alerted me to this:

https://www.teachers.org.uk/education-p ... ic-phonics

Oh dear.... It gives a link to the abstract of the Torgerson, Brooks, Gascoine and Higgins tertiary review, published in January 2018. I have the full article, and one thing that worried me about it was that it accepted the conclusion of the 2016 Machin et al. study. This has been mentioned before in the RRF forum:

https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... hin#p50404

More recently, I mentioned it in December 2017 in the ‘Recent blog-post by Greg Brooks’ thread:
I wrote: [Brooks] cites the 2016 Machin et al. paper as showing that s.p. produced an across-the-board improvement at 5 and 7’, but no ‘average effect’ at 11, although there were ‘lasting effects for children who could be considered as having been at risk of under-achievement initially...’. The children in that study, however, had been taught by the Early Reading Development Pilot approach, which fell far short of good s.p.
Rewind to 2005:

In that year, the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2004-05 was published. This recommended ‘a large-scale comparative study comparing the National Literacy Strategy with “phonics fast and first” approaches’. The Committee made it clear that what lay behind this recommendation was ‘the evidence from the Clackmannanshire study, as well as evidence from other schools where synthetic phonics programmes have been introduced’. That study was never done, a fact regretted by Torgerson et al. and also by the RRF. Instead, the government (Labour at the time) announced, in its response, a pilot study ‘based on the Primary National Strategy’s “Playing with Sounds” programme, which has all the key components of a synthetic phonics programme...’. Well, PwS did not emphasise early sounding out and blending (synthesising) in the way that the Clackmannanshire programme had done, so it fell short in that respect – a pretty crucial one in a programme said to embody s.p. The pilot was the Early Reading Development Pilot (ERDP) and although the pace of phonics teaching was increased, there was still not enough emphasis on early letter-prompted sounding and blending. The ERDP therefore also fell short of being a genuine s.p. programme, as, too, did its successor, the Communication, Language and Literacy programme, a staggered roll-out of training for teachers. The results analysed by Machin et al. were those of the CLLD programme – they should never have been attributed to genuine s.p. teaching, and it’s hard to understand why the 2018 Torgerson et al. tertiary review accepts that finding.

The introduction of the Phonics Screening Check in 2012 has given the greatest impetus so far to s.p., as the most obvious way for children to succeed is by knowing how to use letters as prompts to produce sounds and how to blend those sounds – i.e. synthesise them into a word or pseudo-word pronunciation. Reception and Year 1 teachers are now emphasising this much more than they were before 2012, even though many are also still continuing to encourage some non-phonic strategies. There is evidence that some critics expected the PSC to result in a decline in children’s ability to read and comprehend well – see this post for a quotation: https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... f=1&t=6392. According to England’s 2016 PIRLS results, however, there has been the reverse of a decline.

Ironically, the PSC might not have been needed if the type of comparative study recommended by the Select Committee in 2005 had been done. Instead we got the ERDP and CLLD – why? If they embodied genuine s.p. why did the government need to commission Letters and Sounds, which was published in 2007? That was a genuine s.p. programme, but the 2016 Machin et al. report shows that the training teachers were receiving was CLLD training. So we had the government backing a genuine s.p. programme but also apparently backing training to implement it which was not genuine s.p. Why?

Here in the UK, we have not had s.p. investigated in the way that the government recommended in 2005 it should be investigated, and yet people are implying that this has been done and s.p. has been found wanting. This is unacceptable.

Jenny C.

James Curran
Posts: 123
Joined: Sun Oct 09, 2016 10:24 am

Re: Another attack on synthetic phonics

Post by James Curran » Sat Mar 17, 2018 2:44 pm

Thank you, for a very interesting post Jenny.

'Here in the UK, we have not had s.p. investigated in the way that the government recommended in 2005 it should be investigated, and yet people are implying that this has been done and s.p. has been found wanting. This is unacceptable.'

Totally agree.

chew8
Posts: 4152
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2003 6:26 pm

Re: Another attack on synthetic phonics

Post by chew8 » Mon Mar 19, 2018 5:43 pm

Warwick Mansell is just one of many people who are very critical of Nick Gibb. They could do with realising that what Gibb and the Conservatives have done is to put some extra weight behind initiatives originally introduced by a Labour government – e.g. the Rose review (2006) and Letters and Sounds (2007).

Children's literacy should not be a party-political matter, however. Where synthetic phonics is concerned, many of us have supported government initiatives regardless of which political party has been in power at the time. This is because we believe that s.p. is a theoretically coherent approach, because we are impressed by such research as there is, and because we have hands-on experience of seeing it work well in practice.

Critics have predicted that the extra weight put behind s.p. would have a negative impact on children’s reading. That has apparently not happened, if England’s 2016 PIRLS results are anything to go by.

Jenny C.

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