HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

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HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:17 am

I have opened this thread to post some of the responses from supporters of synthetic/linguistic phonics instruction to the recent call for evidence by the Education Select committee.
The full responses are here, but I do not know how long the 'forum' will be available:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/commi ... cs/?page=0

Please note that this thread is for information only. Please open a new thread if you wish to discuss any of the comments. Posts made on this thread which are not comments made in response to the Select Committee's call will be removed.

Response from Dr Marlynne Grant:
In addition to my real-world longitudinal studies focusing on the efficacy of teaching synthetic phonics in UK schools from the beginning in Reception to Year 3 and Year 6 (which I have reported elsewhere - http://www.rrf.org.uk/pdf/Grant%20Follo ... 202014.pdf and presented to the ResearchEd 14 conference in September 14), I should like to direct the Education Committee to the following independent reports. Marlynne Grant is the author of Sound Discovery® which has been recognised as one of the government approved systematic synthetic phonics programmes for first-time teaching and for intervention.

The following independent reports may be of interest to inform the discussion on the use of synthetic phonics for intervention in UK schools:

Reports A) and B) refer to the same trial conducted by the Cognition and Learning Team in Norfolk into the effectiveness and feasibility of using Sound Discovery® as a Wave 3 intervention in small rural schools. A) was published within a government report and B) was published by Norfolk County Council. Report C) was written following the successful Sound Discovery® trial in 2004. The purpose was for Advisory Support Teachers in Norfolk to gain experience with delivering the programme, thus deepening their understanding of its potential as a Wave 2/3 literacy intervention, to inform the development of a County-wide training programme for schools and to gather further evidence of the effectiveness of the programme with pupils across the key stages and those struggling with literacy skills, including those identified with special education needs.
A) (2005) House of Commons Education and Skills Committee "Teaching Children to Read" Evidence Pages 105 to 118; and 124 to 125.
A successful trial of Sound Discovery® was reported to the HoC Education and Skills Committee by Sarah Seymour, an Advisory Support Teacher for the Norfolk LEA. Her findings are contained in this HoC report. The Sound Discovery® synthetic phonics literacy programme was tested in 2004. The trial was carried out at North Elmham Primary School, Norfolk in consultation with the Cognition and Learning Team of the Norfolk Psychology Service. The programme was found to be effective, economical, motivating, user friendly and non - age specific.
Also in this HoC report, Jennifer Chew, OBE, a recognised authority in the teaching of literacy, discussed the advantages of adopting synthetic phonics and cited as evidence the Johnson and Watson study in Scotland and the Grant study in England, both of which followed children to the end of their primary education. She reported that both these studies produced better short- and long-term results than NLS methods.
The report is published by authority of the HoC and is available from The Stationery Office or can be downloaded from the following government web address:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/p ... 21/121.pdf
Evidence Pages 105 to 118 can be found at pages 151-164 of this pdf document. Evidence Pages 124 to 125 can be found at pages 170 and 175 of the pdf document of the same report.
B) (2004) Sound Discovery® Programme at North Elmham Primary School (Norfolk) - A report of the Trial Published by Norfolk LEA.

The main aims of the trial were to evaluate the impact that Sound Discovery® has on reading, writing and motivation, and also the feasibility of its implementation within a small rural school. The "rule of thumb" advocated by the DfES, of a ratio gain of 'at least double the normal rate of progress' (DfES 2003) was satisfied in this trial. It was seen by North Elmham School as a cost effective intervention “cheap and easy to introduce, economical in terms of time, all combined in a multi-sensory, easy to use, hands on package.”
• From YR to Y6 (ages 4 to 11 years)
• 17 pupils, 1 school
• Vertical grouping
• 10 weeks
• Average Ratio Gains:
◦ Reading 3.8
◦ Spelling 2.7
C) (2005) A report of the Sound Discovery® trial, Cognition and Learning group, Spring and Summer term 2005, Norfolk County Council.
This report is reproduced with the kind permission of Jacqui Worsley, Senior Advisory Support Teacher, Educational Psychology and Specialist Support, Children's Services.
Wave 3 Intervention using Sound Discovery®-Norfolk County Council Trial 2005
• From Y2-Y8 (ages 7 to 13 years)
• 47 pupils, 13 schools
• 12 weeks
• Average Ratio Gains:
◦ Reading 1.8 - 5.3
◦ 66% of pupils 2 - 8
◦ Spelling 1.4 – 3.2 **
◦ 56% of pupils 2 – 4.7
** 1.4 was the ratio gain deemed appropriate for a Wave 3 intervention to be considered ‘educationally significant’ (see p 30, What works for pupils with literacy difficulties, DCSF, 2007).

Reports C), D) and E) refer to trials undertaken by Wiltshire Learning Support Service with pupils.
C) (2008) A report of the Sound Discovery® trial Feb-July 2008, undertaken by Wiltshire Learning Support Service, published by Wiltshire County Council, Children and Education, Schools Branch.
This report on the Sound Discovery® Trial is reproduced with the kind permission of Sarah Couzens, Senior Advisory Support Teacher, Wiltshire Learning Support Service. It reported, “positive findings for children’s reading and spelling (with 65% of 46 pupils making double the rate of expected progress)”.
Some additional point were noted:
• “all schools felt the Sound Discovery® resources were easy to follow and the Snappy Lesson® structure was helpful for those responsible for delivering the programme”
• “skills learned through this intervention are highly transferrable to the classroom setting and may be applied to any reading or writing activity”

• From Y3 – Y5 (ages 8 to 10 years)
• 46 pupils, 13 schools
• 3 to 4 months
• Average Ratio Gains:
◦ Reading 3.7
65% pupils 2 –10
◦ Spelling 1.9
50% pupils 1.4 – 7.3 **
60% pupils 2 or above
** 1.4 was the ratio gain deemed appropriate for a Wave 3 intervention to be considered ‘educationally significant’ (see p 30, What works for pupils with literacy difficulties, DCSF, 2007).
D) (2009) Sound Discovery® Wave 3 Project November 2008 – March 2009, undertaken by Wiltshire Learning Support Services, information provided by Wiltshire County Council, Children and Education, Schools Branch.
This summary is reproduced with the kind permission of Sarah Couzens, Senior Advisory Support Teacher, Wiltshire Learning Support Service. It reported, “good impact for the Sound Discovery® programme”.
• From Y2 – Y3 (ages 7 to 8 years)
• 52 pupils, a minimum of 2 years behind peers in reading, 11 schools
• 9 – 12 weeks
• Average Ratio Gains:
◦ Reading 2.9
◦ Spelling 1.9
** 1.4 was the ratio gain deemed appropriate for a Wave 3 intervention to be considered ‘educationally significant’ (see p 30, What works for pupils with literacy difficulties, DCSF, 2007).
E) (2010) Wiltshire Sound Discovery® Wave 3 Project March 2009 to March 2010, information provided by Wiltshire County Council, Children and Education, Schools Branch.
This summary is reproduced with the kind permission of Sarah Couzens, Senior Advisory Teacher, Wiltshire Learning Support Service. It reports “good impact for the Sound Discovery® programme from reported data” in Wiltshire in 2010.
• From Y2 – Y 3 (ages 7 to 8 years)
• 70 pupils, a minimum of 2 years behind peers in reading, 12 schools
• 9-12 weeks
• Average Ratio Gains:
◦ Reading 3.1
◦ Spelling 1.4**
** 1.4 was the ratio gain deemed appropriate for a Wave 3 intervention to be considered ‘educationally significant’ (see p 30, What works for pupils with literacy difficulties, DCSF, 2007).

Report F) is based on the work of the School Improvement Service and the Learning Support Team, Bath and North East Somerset, who trialled a Wave 3 literacy intervention programme with Year 3 children who were falling well below the expected levels in literacy. Report G) is the Ofsted evaluation of the teaching of reading in primary school which reported on a visit to a school using the Sound Discovery® programme from Reception.
F) (2004) A Report of the Wave 3 Literacy Intervention Trial in four Bath and North East Somerset schools 2004. Published by Bath and North East Somerset LEA
The group of children included a child for whom English was an additional language, a child with a cleft palette, a child with oral dyspraxia, a child on the autism spectrum and several children with dyslexic difficulties as well as children with moderate learning difficulties. Four of the children had Statements of SEN, two were on School Action Plus and the rest were on School Action of the Code of Practice.
The trial reported that the intervention programme satisfied the DfES stipulation that double the normal rate of progress should be achieved, as far as reading was concerned. There was also some evidence that it is possible to achieve double the normal rate of progress for spelling as well. At the end of the twenty-week intervention programme, schools asked for on-going support, not only to continue to improve the literacy skills of the original group of children, but also to train additional staff to deliver the intervention to other children.

This report is reproduced with the kind permission of Mary Adams, Senior Support Teacher for Bath and North East Somerset.

The following successes were reported: -
• Average ratio gain for reading of 3.1
• Individual ratio gains for spelling
• Improvement in National Curriculum writing levels
• Increased skills, enthusiasm, motivation, independence and self-esteem of children
• Removal of barriers to learning for children with a wide range of SEN
• School staff reported increased confidence in meeting the needs of children

• Year 3 (ages 7 to 8 years)
• 18 pupils, 4 schools
• Vertical grouping
• 20 weeks
• Average Ratio Gains:
◦ Reading 3.1
◦ Spelling 0.9:

G) (2004) Ofsted. "Reading for purpose and pleasure" December 2004. An evaluation of the teaching of reading in primary schools.
This Ofsted survey was undertaken:
• "to identify reasons for the wide range of attainment in reading among primary-aged pupils.
• to disseminate schools’ effective practice in reducing underachievement and developing pupils’ positive attitude to reading.
• to describe key features of the successful teaching of reading."
The report includes a case study of early intervention based on the Snappy Lesson® from the Sound Discovery® programme:
“The SEN Co-ordinator took the key role in the teaching of phonics and in providing related training for all staff. The lessons lasted for around 20 minutes in Year R (Reception) and 25 minutes in Year 1. They were held mostly during registration periods twice or three times a week. Intervention was used in Years 3 and 4 to teach more advanced spelling strategies.” The case study concludes that, ”the SEN Co-ordinator’s work had a positive impact on the standards achieved at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2. The proportion of pupils on the SEN register had fallen each year since 1998, even though the percentages of pupils eligible for FSM remained fairly constant. In 2003, the test results for reading at Key Stage 1 showed, for the first time in several years, virtually no difference between the attainments of boys and girls. This was also reflected in attainment in reading at Key Stage 2.”
The survey report is published by the Ofsted Publications Centre (document reference number HMI 2393).
Email: freepublications@ofsted.gov.uk
Website: http://www.offsted.gov.uk

Report G) provides information on the most effective intervention schemes for children who struggle with reading and writing, both for children who can be considered ‘mainstream’ and for those with specific educational needs including dyslexia/specific learning difficulties. Report F) presents data on 20 Year 7 pupils entering Secondary school with no measurable reading or spelling skills. Systematic synthetic phonics teaching to the 20 pupils, taught as a whole class for the intervention for 28 weeks during three of their English lessons per week, was effective in raising the literacy levels of this disaffected group, allowing them improved access to the curriculum.
G) (2013) Greg Brooks (2013) in What works for children and young people with literacy difficulties? The effectiveness of intervention schemes. 4th Edition
Greg Brooks reported that Sound Discovery® was used in South Gloucestershire as a Wave 1 programme and therefore was not analysed in his report. He acknowledged that extensive data had been gathered there over ten years. He also reported on the use of Sound Discovery® as a catch-up programme in Norfolk and in a large middle school in Bedfordshire in 2005-2007. The Norfolk study found substantial gain for comprehension and the Bedfordshire study found useful progress in spelling with Year 5 and Year 6 pupils. Sound Discovery® was one of the top 20 most effective literacy interventions, according to this report.
The report can be downloaded at the following web address:
http://www.interventionsforliteracy.org ... rth_ed.pdf
F) Secondary Wave 3 Intervention using Sound Discovery® with Year 7 pupils

The school conducted and reported these findings independently. This secondary Wave 3 intervention with 20 Year 7 pupils raised reading and spelling levels from no measurable score at the beginning of Year 7 to post-test scores in the 8:05 to 10:05 years range for reading and above that for spelling, in 28 weeks. Ratio gains were in the range 5.9 to 9.3 for reading and greater than this for spelling. View table of results at:

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:25 am

Response from Molly de Lemos, President, Learning Dificulties Australia (LDA)
The response of the UK government to the recommendations of the Rose Report (2006) in mandating the systematic teaching of phonics and introducing a statutory phonics screening check at the end of Year 1 has been followed with interest by those of us in Australia who have long advocated for the introduction of more effective approaches to the teaching of reading in Australia.

In Australia, following an open letter to the then Minister of Education from a group of leading reading researchers and academics expressing concerns about the way in which reading was typically being taught in Australian schools, the Minister commissioned a National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in Australia, which submitted its report to the Minister in December 2005. This Report made 20 recommendations, including the recommendation that teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency. But none of the Report’s 20 recommendations was ever acted upon. The teaching of reading in Australia is still dominated by the whole language approach, where there is no systematic teaching of phonics and children are encouraged to guess words based on pictures and context.

From this perspective, what the UK has achieved in the same period of time since the publication of the Rose report has been remarkable. Clearly without government leadership and appropriate legislation, the dominance of ineffective teaching approaches based on ideology rather than on scientific evidence will persist, as it has in the case of Australia and other English-speaking countries such as NZ, the US and Canada where whole language approaches to the teaching of reading have become entrenched.

I see the phonics screening check at the end of Year 1 as an essential part of the strategy to ensure that schools provide effective teaching of phonics in the first year of school. Without this, there would be no means of monitoring the effectiveness of the program, and no consistent means of identifying children who need extra help in acquiring the basic skills of reading. Assumptions that teachers do not need the phonics check to identify children who are having difficulties is not supported by the evidence that teacher judgments are less reliable than objective tests in identifying children who may be at risk.

In the case of Australia, I would see the introduction of a phonics screening test at the end of the first year of school (now called the Foundation year) as the best way to focus attention on the importance of phonics instruction and to bring about change in teaching methods.

I commend the achievements of the UK government in legislating to ensure that the teaching of reading in the UK is based on scientific evidence as opposed to ideological assumptions as to how best to teach reading. It is an example which other countries would do well to emulate.

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:28 am

Response from Dick Schutz:
(2 responses put together)
Response 1
The current policy on Phonics is sound, but the matter is broader and more consequential than Paragraph 1 of the DfE Memorandum circumscribes. Phonics is a method for teaching children how to handle the link between written and spoken language—the English Alphabetic Code. (McGuinness, 2005) Akin to the Periodic Table of Elements, encryption codes, and other codes, the structure and substance of the Alphabetic Code is self-evident. Just as we speak and write Prose, we read what has been written by using the Alphabetic Code. “He who, independently of the level of understanding of words, can correctly recreate their sound forms is able to read.” (Elkonin, 1963)

Understanding the meaning of words is something that children learn from birth using spoken language. Schooling contributes to this understanding, but it is counterproductive to burden reading instruction with needless vocabulary requisites, since any child who can speak in complete sentences and participate in everyday conversation has the prerequisites to be taught how to “recreate the sound forms” of English texts.

The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check is a psychometically sound test of an individual’s ability to handle the Alphabetic Code. Akin to the Snellen test for visual acuity used in driver licensing screening, there is more involved than the test measures, but a child who passes the test is “good to go,” requiring no further formal instruction in reading per se. The “rich curriculum,” of course continues, and it is now enhanced by the child’s reading capability.

The results of the Screening Check constitute the best “evidence” regarding Phonics and reading instruction. These data provide the dependent variable for an on-going Natural Experiment of grand proportion. On an international level, England and the US share the intent of teaching all students how to read, but they are applying very different “treatment” models (Schutz, 2012a ) The results to date (Schutz, 2012b and 2014 ) indicate that the UK policy is far superior to the US policy in reliably accomplishing the intent.

Internal to the UK, the analyses to date have been limited to results at the LEA level. The data show important gains from year to year, as stated in the DfE Memorandum. The data also show wide variability in the results across LEAs. Available information points to the probability that the differences in results stems from differences in instructional practices within LEAs and among schools, rather than from demographic or biosocial factors. That is, many school Heads and teachers are known to “oppose Phonics” and favor “Mixed Methods.”

It is a simple matter to query Heads and teachers re the reading programs and methods they are using and to cross-tab the data with Screening Check results. Collecting this evidence warrants the highest immediate priority. The resulting evidence will importantly clarify many outstanding questions associated with Phonics, within the UK and also internationally.

Elkonin, D. B. “The Psychology of Mastering the Elements of Reading” in Educational Psychology in the U.S.S.R, Stanford University Press, 1963, p. 165.

McGuinness, D. Language Development and Learning to Read, MIT Press. 2005.

Schutz, D. “A Grand Educational Experiment in Reading Instruction: Toward Methodology for Building the Capacity of Pre-Collegiate Schooling,” Teachers College Record, January 24, 2012. Accessible at

Schutz, D. “A Grand Experiment in Reading Instruction: Interim Report 1.” Teachers College Record, June 1, 2012. Accessible at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2018636

Schutz, D. “A Grand Experiment in Reading Instruction: Interim Report 2.” Teachers College Record, January 17, 2014. Accessible at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2356004

Response 2
The evidence base for Phonics is to be found outside “reading research,” in the inquiry of scholars who have had little interest in the messy enterprise of schooling. Although the relevant literature is far-ranging, the gist of the evidential support for “systematic, synthetic phonics” instruction and for the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check can be communicated in brief quotes from two papers:

The first paper: (Port, R. 2005)

“During historical times, and increasingly for the past 3millenia, some human communities have exploited static, spatial and graphic models for speech. This spectacularly successful set of notational conventions transformed quasicontinuous, overlapping, time-distributed and highly variable speech sounds into conventionalized, discrete, ordered graphic tokens where each word has a single spelling.
. . .The ability to describe and understand human speech in terms of such graphic tokens was first achieved by the Phoenicians and Greeks. It has continued to provide a convenient description of speech and an influence on all literate people in the western cultural tradition up to the present day.

“Once a phonological writing system based on recording the sequence of critical articulatory states is conventionalized, each word acquires a standard form and it becomes possible to write down consistent spellings ignoring all the incidental variations of detail in how they are pronounced.”

The second paper: (Perfetti, C. 2003)

“What does it mean to learn to get meaning? What a child learns is how his or her writing system works—both its basic principles and the details of its orthographic implementation. We know this learning has occurred when the child can identify printed words as words in his or her spoken language in a way consistent with the writing system. For an alphabetic reader, this means being able to read unfamiliar words, and even nonwords, as well as familiar words. . . To be sure, much more is learned than how one’s writing system encodes one’s language. But this is the central learning event to which additional literacy learning, for example, comprehension strategies, must be connected. . .

“Phonemic awareness is not exactly what needs to be learned for reading to get a start. What needs to be learned is that the printed forms on the page correspond to words in spoken language. In alphabetic writing, the smallest of these printed units correspond roughly to small pieces of meaningless speech. . .

“Instruction in learning to read is right to focus on mappings between letters and phonemes. Getting that part roughly right carries the subtleties of morphology along with it fairly readily. Perhaps a child learning to read will make a stab at jumped and produce /jump’ ed/. But getting to /jumpt/ is not a big move because that is the spoken form the child has. At least, this is not a big move if the child is getting the central idea—that what the child sees in print maps onto his or her spoken language.”

Perfetti, C. “The Universal Grammar of Reading,” 2003. Accessible at http://www.pitt.edu/~perfetti/PDF/Unive ... eading.pdf

Port, R. “The Graphical Basis of Phones and Phonemes,” 2005. Accessible at: http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~port/pap/The ... .SGLSP.pdf

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:40 pm

Susan Godsland
I am a recently retired specialist reading tutor and tutored students of all ages 1-1 over 10 years. About half my students had received an educational psychologist’s report which said that they had SpLD-Dyslexia.

I used the same synthetic phonics programme, the Sound Reading System (SRS), with all my students and it was invariably fast and effective. The SRS research evidence-base was independently assessed by Prof Greg Brooks and placed in the top category of effectiveness as an intervention; 'remarkable' in all three areas, for all ages:
-for reading accuracy in Y2-adult
-for comprehension in Y2 -adult
-for spelling in Y2-adult
http://www.interventionsforliteracy.org ... ng-system/
The synthetic phonics principles, on which SRS is based, hold true for successful whole–class teaching of beginning reading too. SRS is used in primary schools with outstanding results in reading and spelling, for example http://www.chchchelsea.rbkc.sch.uk/811733424663.htm

Other primary schools using a similar programme (Sounds-Write) also have excellent results in reading and spelling, for example St George’s CEPS in Wandsworth and St Thomas Aquinas CPS in Milton Keynes. See- Sounds~Write longitudinal study of literacy development following 1607 pupils through KS1 http://www.sounds-write.co.uk/documents ... t_2009.pdf

Schools using Read Write Inc. also achieve excellent results – for example Curwen primary school and Elmhurst Primary, both in Newham, east London. Elmhurst PS has 1,000 pupils; 90% EAL and 20% mobility, but no pupil leaves unable to read. The head teacher says 'No child has been identified as having dyslexia since we adopted the programme in 2004'

Dr. Macmillan describes three studies which confirm earlier findings as to the efficacy of phonics teaching for beginning reading instruction. Each study also provided new evidence about exactly which elements of instruction are effective, and which of those are not, when attempting to teach children to read http://www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID= ... eNumber=46

Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10 year old boys and girls http://www2.hull.ac.uk/science/pdf/johnston_etal.pdf

Professor Diane McGuinness, a cognitive scientist trained in statistical analysis, examined the Torgerson et al meta-analysis closely. See http://www.syntheticphonics.com/article ... rticle.pdf

Prof. R Johnston also examined the Torgerson et al meta-analysis. A copy is available from Johnston, R.S. An examination of C. Torgerson et al (2006) meta-analysis entitled: A Systematic Review of the Research Literature on the Use of Phonics in the Teaching of Reading and Spelling.

The Phonics Screening Check examines children's ability to decode single words using phonics, not their language comprehension or 'reading'. The Check is a quick, easy and valid way to identify, at an essential early stage, those children who are in need of extra help with their phonics code knowledge and blending skills.
Prof. Snowling et al study focused on the reliability and validity of the phonics screening check. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 12029/full
‘We have shown that the new phonics screening check is a valid measure of phonic skills and is sensitive to identifying children at risk of reading difficulties…We agree that early rigorous assessment of phonic skills is important for the timely identification of word reading difficulties'

In my previous comment I named a few primary schools which teach reading and spelling using ‘pure’ synthetic phonics within a broad and language-rich curriculum. Here are their 2014 KS2 SAT results:

Curwen PS e London. 55% disadvantaged pupils. 67% ESL
Reading. 98% L4 73% L5. Writing. 97% L4. 57% L5. SPAG 97% L4 83% L5

Elmhurst PS e London 52% disadvantaged pupils. 96% ESL
Reading. 94% L4 59% L5. Writing 94% L4 47% L5. SPAG. 90% L4 64% L5

St George's PS Battersea, London. 71% disadvantaged pupils 50% ESL.
Reading 96% L4 54% L5. Writing 100% L4 63% L5. SPAG. 96% L4 75% L5

Christ Church PS Chelsea London. 21% disadvantage 25% ESL.
Reading 96% L4 79% L5. Writing 93% L4 68% L5. SPAG 82% L4 82% L5.

Whole Language became the dominant approach for teaching reading in the 1980s and lasted until the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) in 1998. Early reading instruction in the NLS was based on multi-cueing decoding strategies (searchlights).

In their Civitas paper 'Ready to Read', Anastasia de Waal and Nicholas Cowen wrote: '(I)n order to accommodate the more established academic orthodoxy (i.e. child centred rather than anything resembling didactic or mechanistic teaching), a medley of reading strategies was included in searchlights. This attempt to keep everyone happy, while also attempting to address reading standards, led to a rather chaotic model which would frequently prove ineffective. Searchlights encouraged children to learn to read using four distinctive methods simultaneously'

Whilst the Phonics Screening Check examines children’s single word decoding, KS2 Reading SATs examine children’s comprehension. When phonics decoding is not taught, or a range of strategies is used for decoding, comprehension suffers. This can be seen in schools’ KS2 SATs results from the Whole Language and NLS periods.

A report by Professor Tymms, Coe and Merrell, at the University of Durham's CEM Centre, looked at the attainments of pupils in England between 1995 and 2004. In 1995, in the KS2 SATs, only 48% of pupils achieved Level 4 or above in reading. According to official figures this shockingly low level of attainment rose to 75% by 2000, but the Massey Report called the reading score rise “illusory” with the real score being just 58%. In 2004, 6 years after the introduction of the NLS with its 'medley of decoding strategies', only 60% of children achieved Level 4 or above in reading in the KS 2 SATs.
Tymms, Coe & Merrell: Standards in English schools.

The Clackmannanshire researchers Johnston and Watson said, 'Much is made of the fact that the synthetic phonics programme in Clackmannanshire led to much greater increases in word reading and spelling skill than in reading comprehension, implying that reading comprehension did not benefit from the intervention. However, it should be noted that at the end of the seventh year at school, reading comprehension in the study was significantly above age level, in a sample that had a below average SES profile’(RRF newsletter 59. p3) Pupils in England from similar backgrounds, but taught by the NLS multi-cueing method, were spelling 4.5 months below age expectations and reading comprehension was about 7 months behind. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7147813.stm)

Reading Recovery is 'a multi-cueing, non-systematic approach' (Sir Jim Rose. Presentation to SPELD conference Australia)

Parliament's Science and Technology committee also questioned the use of Reading Recovery. Having checked all the evidence, the committee said: 'Teaching children to read is one of the most important things the State does. The Government has accepted Sir Jim Rose's recommendation that systematic phonics should be at the heart of the Government's strategy for teaching children to read. This is in conflict with the continuing practice of word memorisation and other teaching practices from the 'whole language theory of reading' used particularly in Wave 3 Reading Recovery’

The following paper by Profs Tunmer, Chapman et al at Massey University, New Zealand, explains why NZ’s own NLS has failed and the problems with Reading Recovery.
http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/Mass ... y-2013.pdf

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:41 pm

Response from Geraldine Carter:
For over 50 years, the debate has raged over i. systematic phonics- based instruction for early readers, or ii. a mixture of methods: look & say, Analytic Phonics, ‘real reading’, use of syntax, shapes of words, picture clues, onset &rime and so on. Thousands of papers have been written, analysed, argued over. Without clarity and transparency, the debate will continue, resulting in millions of people in the English-speaking world devoid of foundational skills. It is inevitable that billions of pounds will continue to be spent on sub-optimal instruction.
What is urgently required is simplicity and ease of access to DfE school statistics. If the DfE would provide, for 2014, Key Stage l and 2 results for the top-achieving 300 deprived and/or multi-cultural primaries, then a transparent, informed assessment could cut through all the opposing points of view. For instance, there is information on many schools in areas of high deprivation using Synthetic Phonics with outstanding results: Education Authorities including Newham & Tower Hamlets, ARK schools, St George’s, Battersea, Thomas Jones, Kensington where development and love of literature go hand in hand with meticulous instruction in foundational skills. There is also evidence that authorities such as Barking & Dagenham, Oxford, Cambridge, East Sussex – notable for their opposition to systematic Synthetic Phonics – have performed poorly. Without the ability to examine results in detail, esoteric discussions will continue and lives will continue to be irreparably damaged. Head teachers, universities and all ITT primary course leaders should be held responsible for ensuring that virtually all children in primary schools are capable readers before continuing to secondary education. This requires children to be able to decode to automaticity in order to tackle the demands of secondary education. Serious sanctions should be considered when foundational skills are not secure. Computer adaptive reading tests should be designed in order that no school can ‘game’ the system. These tests would enable schools to monitor pupil progress frequently and cheaply.

It is perfectly possible to teach children of 4-5 how to read. Taught logically, with small step progression, learning to read via decoding is a simple skill and need not occupy too much school time. It goes without saying that most of the day should be devoted to exploration, play, role-play, engaging with language development – including encouraging children themselves to explore language – and reading stories and poetry aloud.
Synthetic Phonics swiftly reveals the logic of the Alphabetic Code and provides the overlearning and practice needed to maintain progress. It also stimulates both speech and language development.
Of course, the lowest-achieving pupils may take up to three years to fully master the complexities of the English Alphabetic Code, but the alternative is a plethora of conflicting strategies often resulting in lifelong impairment.
Just as a piano teacher will first spend time on fingering, scales, basic notation and practice of ‘limited’ C-major tunes, so a Synthetic Phonics teacher will provide sufficient decodable books before moving on to ‘real reading’ as soon as a pupil has absorbed the fundamentals of the Alphabetic Code.

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:49 pm

Response from Sue Lloyd:
Sadly, it seems to me that there will always be arguments about which research is acceptable and which is not. In the meantime nearly 20% of our children are still failing to read well enough to participate fully in their education.

On close observation of these struggling children it is obvious that they have difficulties with word reading. Not only are they unable to read the words but also they cannot decode them either. On further investigation these children nearly always have poor letter-sound knowledge and weak blending skills.

Good readers are good at decoding words that they have not read before. English has a complicated alphabetic code with, in some circumstances, more than one way of representing the same sound. This makes it difficult to choose the correct pronunciation of some words. Slight adjustments enable the word to be read when that word is in the reader’s spoken vocabulary. This is why decoding alone is not enough for reading some words. A wide vocabulary is a great advantage for reading these unusual words that have more than one pronunciation.

Fortunately the decoding problems can be avoided by teaching synthetic phonics and using decodable readers in mainstream education and intervention groups, as described in Dr Marlynne Grant’s longitudinal studies ‘The Effects of a Systematic, Synthetic Phonics Programme on Reading and Spelling’ http://www.syntheticphonics.net/pdf/2014-Report.pdf
None of the 700 children tested had developed serious literacy difficulties or dyslexia, and these children came from non-affluent areas.

Mixed methods of teaching and incidental phonics cannot develop the decoding skills well enough for all the children, which is why systematic synthetic phonics is so important.

It is not surprising, from my experience, that the evidence provided by the Department for Education in their Phonics policy is overwhelmingly in favour of systematic synthetic phonics for providing the necessary decoding skills that are needed for reading.

Sue Lloyd
Co-author Jolly Phonics

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:54 pm

I have included this one because of references to research papers which may be of interest to readers of this forum

Sarah McGeown says:

In terms of additional research focusing on synthetic phonics instruction in UK schools, I would like to direct the Education Committee to the following papers (see below). I believe the strength of evidence for synthetic phonics instruction is increasing; however we need to be critical of the evidence, impartial and ensure we rely on high quality research to inform this debate. In response to the paper produced by the UK Parliament, I’ve also commented on a couple of points:

The following papers may be of interest to inform the discussion of phonics in UK schools:

Papers A and B below examine synthetic phonics in depth and show that this is a particularly effective method for children starting school with weak reading readiness skills (e.g., poor letter-sound knowledge) and also for children with weak language (i.e., vocabulary) skills. Therefore it is important to consider individual differences (see point below) when considering the effectiveness of phonics instruction. In addition, for schools implementing a systematic synthetic phonics method of instruction, these papers show the skills children are relying upon as they learn to read by this approach:

A) McGeown, S. P., & Medford, E. (2013). Using method of instruction to predict the skills supporting initial reading development: insight from a synthetic phonics approach. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27, 591-608.

B) McGeown, S., Johnston, R., & Medford, E. (2012). Reading instruction affects the cognitive skills supporting early reading development. Learning and Individual Differences, 22, 360-264.

Paper C compares the long term effects of synthetic phonics vs analytic phonics instruction in UK schools.

C) Johnston, R. S., McGeown, S., & Watson, J. E. (2012). Long term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10 year old boys and girls. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 25, 1365-1384.

Papers D and E deal specifically with concerns regarding the irregular nature of the English orthography and show that use of decoding skills/a phonological approach is actually beneficial, not detrimental, to irregular word reading. This is evidence against the idea that the English writing system is too irregular for a phonics focused approach to be effective:

D) McGeown, S. P., Johnston, R. S., & Moxon, G. (2013). Toward an understanding of how children read and spell irregular words: the role of nonword and orthographic processing skills. Journal of Research in Reading, 37, 51-64.

E) McGeown, S. P., Medford, E., & Moxon, G. (2013). Individual differences in children’s reading and spelling strategies and the skills supporting strategy use. Learning and Individual Differences, 28, 75-81.

Copies of papers can be accessed via: https://edinburgh.academia.edu/SarahMcGeown

Comments on points within the UK Parliament document specifically:

“UK and international research shows overwhelmingly that systematic phonics teaching,
in a language-rich curriculum….”.

I think it is critical that you continue to highlight that phonics is an effective way to teach children to read new/unfamiliar words, but is not a method to teach children the meaning of these words. I think this distinction is often confused (i.e., phonics is criticised because children don’t learn word meanings through this approach; however that is not the function of phonics). Therefore phonics needs to be presented to teachers within a context; phonics is an effective method to teach children to read new words; however children should also be exposed to literature and a rich linguistic environment to develop their language and reading comprehension skills (e.g., via story book activities etc).

“Sound evidence that systematic synthetic phonics programmes produce greater growth in reading than other reading programmes, and this is especially effective for younger, at-risk readers (National Reading Panel, 2000b)”

Again, I think this point is crucial. There is huge variation among children in the reading-related and cognitive skills that they start school with and a systematic synthetic phonics method of instruction is potentially most effective for children starting school knowing very few letter-sounds and with weak language skills (see Papers A and B above). However, teachers are experiencing very different student intakes and this may explain the differing views regarding the effectiveness of phonics instruction. We need to appreciate that the effectiveness of a synthetic phonics approach may differ based on student cohort. The argument that ‘one size does not fit all’ does not mean that we should be teaching children a range of strategies to read new words (e.g., former ‘searchlight’ model), but rather that we should be finding the most effective method to teach children based on their cognitive profiles (i.e., reading and language skills).

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:57 pm

Comment from Debbie Hepplewhite:
There are multiple issues of concern around phonics and reading instruction in England resulting in 'chance' as to what children receive with regard to phonics experience and reading instruction in their schools.

There is no need for this 'chance' state of affairs – and it is certainly not accountable at any level.

We know from an international and well-established body of research and leading-edge classroom practice (not just 'Clackmannanshire') that it is very beneficial to teach the complex English alphabetic code and the phonic skills of decoding for reading, and encoding for spelling, explicitly and systematically from the infant years, for all children and for intervention (special needs) as required. The arguments about differences between 'systematic' and 'synthetic' are detracting from ensuring a deep professional understanding of the differences between types of phonics and actual phonics practice in classrooms. We need to keep moving towards a much deeper level of professional understanding of the potential of synthetic phonics teaching largely at the level of the phoneme and why and how this is more beneficial than multiple types of phonics which complicate the teaching of our spelling system especially for younger learners.

We also know from international research and classroom experience that at least some children can be seriously harmed in their short-term and long-term reading progress by multi-cueing reading strategies which amount to guessing words from various clues such as pictures, initial letters, word shape and context – and yet these strategies still persist in teachers' practice and they are embedded in well-known intervention programmes such as Reading Recovery which has sustained an international stranglehold on education for many years. What happens in the reading process when pictures disappear and new words are not in sentences (context) and/or in the readers' spoken language? There is ONLY a phonics strategy left to lift the words off the page:

https://www.senmagazine.co.uk/articles/ ... or-phonics

Finally, I endeavour to point out that even when teachers say that they are 'doing' systematic synthetic phonics, knowledgeable observation of their practice reveals phonics teaching is often weak and lacking in application and embeddedness because of practical matters such as 'insufficient time', activities largely based on 'entertainment' and dominated by mini-whiteboard work (which does not provide a balance of decoding and encoding activities) and failure to provide a full 'Teaching and Learning Cycle' to include 'apply and extend' to embed the phonics learning for reading, spelling and writing, including vocabulary enrichment and language comprehension. This suggests a lack of deep professional knowledge and understanding about phonics and reading instruction including how to address differentiation well enough.

It was arguably a grave error to promote the 'Letters and Sounds' publication (DfES 2007) as a "high-quality six phase phonics programme" as opposed to a 'detailed framework' as this has misled the teaching and teacher-training professions and caused many teachers, and children, subsequent hardship. We now have a situation in England whereby 'phonics provision' can look very, very different school to school and yet this is not understood well enough. We do not even understand that schools describing themselves as 'Letters and Sounds schools' can be providing phonics teaching and learning which looks very different between schools. The NFER report on phonics (May 2014) demonstrates this fact to some extent - raising the point very clearly that even when schools state they provide 'Systematic Synthetic Phonics', this phonics provision may still be within a multi-cueing reading strategies approach and therefore this is NOT systematic synthetic phonics provision according to the body of international research which highlights the dangers of multi-cueing reading habits which can be damaging for children in the short and long term.

It is applauded by many internationally that the UK Government has promoted Systematic Synthetic Phonics teaching in schools in England - we need to build on developments to date transparently, objectively and with good heart to build on work to date - not undermine it. The advances in England have implications for world-wide literacy as much of the world chooses to teach English as an additional language.

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 1:00 pm

Comment from Elizabeth Nonweiler:
I am certain that systematic synthetic phonics is the best way to teach children to read, because of a combination of my own experience, anecdotal evidence, logic and published research.

Below is a link to my own report comparing synthetic phonics research with the following Reading Recovery research in England: “Comparison of Literacy Progress of Young Children in London Schools: a Reading Recovery Follow up Study” (Burroughs-Lange, 2007). Reading Recovery is not synthetic phonics. My report shows that this piece of Reading Recovery research, apparently supporting the use of Reading Recovery with its mixed methods, is flawed. It shows that children, who have difficulty learning to read, can succeed with synthetic phonics. Reading Recovery or Synthetic Phonics?, A review of two studies about helping young children who struggle to learn to read.
http://www.nonweiler.demon.co.uk/RR%20o ... ention.pdf

In addition, below is a link to a memorandum I submitted to “Evidence Check 1: Early Literacy Interventions - Science and Technology Committee”. Since evidence in favour of teaching phonics has become overwhelming, Reading Recovery has included some phonics. Reading Recovery has claimed that this is synthetic phonics, but it is not, because children read words or their teacher tells them words, before analysing the letter-sound correspondences in them. With synthetic phonics, children learn letter-sound correspondences in the words they are going to read first, and then read the words independently.
Memorandum submitted by Elizabeth Nonweiler (LI 12)
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/p ... 44we14.htm

I have copied details of other research and reports supporting the use of synthetic phonics. I have included much that has already been mentioned, but with quotes I use when I am training teachers.

The Effects of a Systematic Synthetic Phonics Programme on Reading, Writing and Spelling
“Crucially, these studies have demonstrated how an early grounding in synthetic phonics can make it possible for all children to leave primary school better able to access the secondary-school curriculum.”
http://rrf.org.uk/pdf/Grant%20Follow-Up ... 202014.pdf

Sound~Write's longitudinal study of literacy development from 2003-2009, following 1607 pupils through Key Stage 1
“We can see that for nearly 10% of those who didn't make enough of a start to score on the test at the end of their Reception Year, within only two years they are scoring more than a year ahead of their chronological ages”
http://www.sounds-write.co.uk/documents ... t_2009.pdf

Synthetic Phonics: The Scientific Research Evidence
“It was found that only two activities, both of which comprised explicit letter-sound instruction, were significantly related to subsequent reading and spelling success.”

A synthesis of research on reading from the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) USA
“Research quite clearly shows that overemphasizing prediction from context for word recognition can be counterproductive, possibly delaying reading acquisition.”

The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment
“One child with severe learning difficulties was able, with support for his learning, to read well above the level expected for his age and level of verbal ability.” (Chapter 8).
This research also showed that children who learn to read with synthetic phonics are better than average at reading comprehension by the time they finish primary school.

Teaching Reading, Report and Recommendations (Australia)
“The Committee recommends that teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency.”

National Reading Panel (USA)
“... the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates:
• ... Systematic phonics instruction – the knowledge that letters of the alphabet represent phonemes, and that these sounds are blended together to form written words ...
http://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/suppo ... /nrp.aspx/

Longitudinal Study of the Effects on Reading and Spelling of a Synthetic Phonics and Systematic Spelling and Grammar Program
“This study demonstrates that the program of synthetic phonics ... known to predict reading and spelling achievement at school entry”
http://www.speld-sa.org.au/images/Artic ... 202012.pdf

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by maizie » Tue Dec 16, 2014 1:01 pm

Comment from John Walker:
As the Committee is well aware, the research base on phonics has been firmly established for well over thirty years and the evidence in favour of a code emphasis (phonics) approach to the teaching of reading and spelling is overwhelming. In itself, this is more than good reason for the government’s continued support for the teaching of explicit and structured phonics to all children in schools across the country.
There are three important research areas that lend considerable support to the teaching of phonics: research on writing systems, our knowledge about human cognition, and the importance of practice.
Experts on the subject of the world’s writing systems, such as Daniels and Bright, contend that all alphabetic languages represent the sounds in the languages for which they were written. Even though for reasons of its history it is more complex than other alphabetic scripts, English is no exception: letters (spellings) represent the sounds of the language. Every single word in English, however complex, is comprised of sounds and all of those sounds have, at one time or another, been assigned spellings.
The second area of research on the way humans learn most effectively is being investigated by Geary, Sweller and Kirschner, all of whom have gathered compelling evidence based on properly collected data tested using randomised control tests. The data tells us that we should be teaching domain-specific knowledge and that novices or beginners embarking on learning new information should be taught explicitly and directly. In addition, all of these researchers are united in their understanding that learning materials need to be structured in a way that takes into account human cognitive architecture. In particular, when designing instructional approaches, teachers need carefully to consider the limits of the capacity of working memory when assimilating new information and its relation to long-term memory.
On the subject of practice, all the literature reviews report that the development of expertise at an individual level is slow and progresses step-by-step even though long periods of time are devoted. As one of the foremost experts on the subject Paul Feltovich acknowledges, ‘[E]xpertise is a long-term developmental process, resulting from rich instrumental experiences in the world and extensive practice. These cannot simply be handed to someone’. Furthermore, in the field of domain-related expertise, it is assumed that the basic capacities with which each individual is endowed are more or less the same. What makes the difference is the quality of the teaching and the amount of practice invested.
Finally, it is my contention that, given the complexity of the domain, the amount of time needed for each and every individual learning to read and write in English is three years. Thereafter, knowledge can be extended both implicitly - based on the individual’s prior knowledge of how the alphabet code is structured - and explicitly from teachers.
For all of this to happen, the furtherance of phonics teaching necessitates the continued and enthusiastic support of the government at all levels. Every single aspect of education depends on how literate children are.
The government’s active role is now required to: commission academic studies on which phonics programmes are most effective; ensure that all teacher trainers in the area of phonics have a very high level of expertise; and, ensure that all teachers have a good understanding of the English writing system and how to teach it, especially in the early years.
Daniels, P.T. and Bright, W., (1996), The World’s Writing Systems, OUP.
Feltovich, P.J., Prietula, M.J. & Anders Ericsson, K., Studies of Expertise from Psychological Perspectives, in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, CUP, p.46.
Geary, D., ‘Educating the Evolved Mind: Conceptual Foundations for an Evolutionary Educational Psychology’, Psychological Perspectives on Contemporary Educational Issues, edited by J.S. Carlson and J.R.Levin. Information Age Publishing.
Paul A. Kirschner, P.A, Sweller, J. & Clark, R.E., (2006), ‘Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist,
Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching’, Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Sweller, J., (2008), ‘Human Cognitive Architecture’ PDF: http://www.csuchico.edu/~nschwartz/Sweller_2008.pdf

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by Derrie Clark » Tue Dec 16, 2014 2:12 pm

Unfortunately, I didn't post mine in time. Here it is anyway:
The Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) of the British Psychological Society (BPS) undertook an investigation of dyslexia (BPS, 1999, 2005). A working party examined the research evidence and surveyed current practice in order to produce a report that would provide guidance for Eps and Local Authorities. The report examined the processes involved in young learners acquiring literacy skills, models of reading and theoretical explanations at the biological, cognitive and behavioural levels. This comprehensive and influential report provides a widely used description of dyslexia and advice on assessment. In the overall conclusions it states:

“The whole language model of reading conceives word reading as a ‘psycho-linguistic guessing game’. It is argued that, driven by a search for meaning, the fluent reader makes educated guesses on the basis of the text already read. A crucial assumption is that most words can be ‘read’ as wholes, visually. The evidence against such an account of reading behaviour is by now incontrovertible” (p.23).
“The proposal that reading is accomplished through a combination of cueing strategies, for which learners may have a preference, deflects from the centrality of word decoding in the reading process. Accurate and fluent word decoding may be better regarded as the fundamental sub-skill required for efficient reading for interest and information” (p.23).

Yet this is exactly the practice that continues today. The 2014 evaluation of the phonic check (DfE, 2014) notes that the percentage of respondents who agreed that a variety of different methods should be used to teach children to decode words mirrored that of the previous year (90%). The report concluded that: “Most teachers do not see a commitment to systematic synthetic phonics as incompatible with the teaching of other decoding methods”. (DfE, 2014, p.28.)

Attempting to combine whole language cues and phonics in this way confounds word recognition and text comprehension in the teaching of ‘beginning reading’. While Brooks (2003) proposed that the Searchlight Model, when fully explained, can expand to include the word recognition processes and an emphasis on phonics, Stuart (2002) highlighted that the lack of clarity impacted on the message and teacher knowledge/ideology. This is further emphasized by Rose (2006) in his independent review of the teaching of early reading. In his report he draws the reader’s attention to an Ofsted evaluation of the first four years of the UK National Literacy Strategy (DfEE, 1998):

“While the full range of strategies (context cues to aid understanding) is used by fluent readers, beginning readers need to learn how to decode effortlessly, using their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and the skills of blending sounds together. The importance of these crucial skills and knowledge has not been communicated clearly enough to teachers. The result has been an approach to word-level work which diffuses teaching at the earliest stages, rather than concentrating it on phonics.” (Ofsted, 2002, pp.37-38)


British Psychological Society (BPS) (1999). Dyslexia, Literacy and Psychological Assessment. Leicester: Author.
British Psychological Society (BPS) (2004). Dyslexia, Literacy and Psychological Assessment. Leicester: Author.
Department for Education and Employment. (1998). The National Literacy Strategy: Framework for teaching. DfEE Publications, Sudbury.
Department for Education. (2014). Phonics screening check evaluation. Research Report. May 2014. Retrieved at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/ system/uploads/attachment_data/file/307229/Evaluation_of_the_phonics_screening_check_second_interim_report_FINAL.pdf
Rose, J. (2006). Independent review of the teaching of early reading. Department of Education and Skills. http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/rosereview/

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by Susan Godsland » Tue Dec 16, 2014 2:46 pm

Comment from Jenny Chew:
In the early stages of learning to read, children encounter many words that are unfamiliar in their written form but familiar in their spoken form. Early independence in converting the unfamiliar written forms into the more familiar spoken forms is clearly very useful. Synthetic phonics teaches this: children learn the letter-sound correspondences which are the basis of English orthography, starting with the simplest, and are taught to read words by saying sounds for the letters and then blending (synthesising) the sounds into whole words. Once words have been read this way a few times, most children start reading them without overt sounding and blending.

Official reports, however, as well as comments from teachers and others, show that many people still believe that it is better for children to be taught to use a range of strategies to identify words. These strategies include the memorisation of words without attention to detail and guessing from pictures or context. Mixed methods are therefore still common, but there seems little doubt that the amount of synthetic phonics in the mix has increased in recent years. Obvious influences have been the recommendations of the Rose review (2006) and the introduction of the Year 1 phonics screening check (2012). The cohorts of children affected by these changes have apparently done better in the national end-of-key-stage assessments than previous cohorts have done. This suggests that the increased emphasis on synthetic phonics has had a beneficial effect in practice, not least on reading for meaning, as this is what is assessed at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2.

It is clear that there are disagreements about the quality of the research behind synthetic phonics. The end-of-Key-Stage assessments are a large-scale official yardstick, however, and it is hard to see how the government can ignore the evidence they provide unless there is strong counter-evidence.

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by Susan Godsland » Tue Dec 16, 2014 2:50 pm

Comment from Maggie Downie:
I would just like to add that while contributors are demanding high quality peer reviewed research studies as evidence for the teaching of synthetic phonics I would like to know where are the similar studies which validate the 'alternative' methods of teaching reading which they favour?

Of course, had the recommendations of the Education Select Committee Report on the Initial Teaching of Reading (2005) been implemented and a well designed and run research study comparing methods been carried out we might have had a definitive answer by now.

Objections to the introduction of synthetic phonics (SP) as the required method of teaching reading seem to be narrowly based on Johnston and Watson Clackmannanshire study and critiques of that study. They also allude to the fact that SP does not ‘teach’ comprehension.
On the latter point it has already been noted that the purpose of SP is not to teach ‘comprehension’, its function is to teach children how to identify words, which they must do before they are able to attach meaning to them or to learn their meaning if they do not already know it. Reference to the 2014 National curriculum shows that SP should be taught as part of a language rich environment in which speaking and listening, story telling, and the sharing of text, both prose and poetry, develop children’s vocabularies, appreciation of literature and an interest in books and reading. To assume that this aspect of children’s learning is missing when they are taught SP seems to indicate a lack of understanding of how reading is taught by an SP practitioner or a wilful attempt to demonise the methodology.
On the former point, our knowledge of the most effective method to teach word identification is informed by far more than the Clackmannanshire study.

The Rose report rightly points out that ‘phonics’ is a body of knowledge which children must learn in order to read effectively. This consists of learning how the written word is composed of symbols which represent the discrete sounds in the word, which symbols correspond to which sounds and how to use this knowledge to translate the written word to the spoken word in order to determine the meaning of words in text and understand the idea or message being communicated by a piece if text.

It is the way that this body of knowledge is taught which is at issue here. In order to determine the most effective method of teaching this knowledge we have many decades of research into the reading process to inform us. By drawing together the conclusions of peer reviewed research from fields such as cognitive psychology, eye movement research and brain imaging we can build a model of the optimum method of teaching the necessary skills and knowledge. There is far too much reported research to do this here but a comprehensive review of peer reviewed research to the early 2000s was undertaken by Professor Diane McGuinness and published in book form; Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us about How to Teach Reading (2004). Professor McGuinness puts together a research informed prototype for a programme for the initial teaching of reading. The best UK SP programmes conform closely to this prototype. They should, therefore, be considered to be firmly based on scientific evidence. I would recommend that someone reads Prof. McGuinness' book.

With regard to the Brookes and Torgerson review I would draw your attention to the critiques of Professor McGuinness: Some Comments of a Report by C. Torgerson, G. Brooks, and J. Hall titled “A Systematic Review of the Research Literature on the Use of Phonics in the Teaching of Reading and Spelling: http://dyslexics.org.uk/comment.pdf and Professor Rhona Johnston • Johnston, R.S. An examination of C. Torgerson et al (2006) meta-analysis entitled: A Systematic Review of the Research Literature on the Use of Phonics in the Teaching of Reading and Spelling.

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Re: HOC Education Select Comm. call for evidence on SP teaching

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Dec 16, 2014 6:26 pm

I also added the comment below:
Debbie Hepplewhite says:
November 22, 2014 at 03:01 PM

By calling upon the evidence sought by the Department for Education via the National Foundation for Educational Research: 'Phonics screening check evaluation, Research report, May 2014', I was able to verify my own experiences and observations about the lack of a shared understanding in the teaching profession itself in England with regard to the teaching of phonics and reading according to the body of research in the international domain and according to guidance provided in the Government's 'core criteria' for evaluating phonics programmes about warning about the dangers of multi-cueing reading strategies. Despite the vast majority of schools stating that they are 'Letters and Sounds' schools, it is clear from the NFER report that the picture is NOT CLEAR as to the practices of the teachers across England and whether these are indeed in line with the research findings on reading instruction.


My experiences and views are that the wide-scale resistance to the Year One Phonics Screening Check and the range of teachers' responses to the NFER year-on-year survey makes it clear that we have a long way to go in England regarding teacher-training and the delivery of truly evidence-informed best practice.
I do urge people to look through the range of all the responses to the call for evidence if they have not already done so (direct link provided in the original post above).

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