Complications are caused when s.p. is defined in different ways. In a book published by what was then the United Kingdom Reading Association in 2002 (Perspectives on the Teaching and Learning of Phonics, ed. Cook), Prof. Brooks, in explaining how s.p. worked for reading and spelling respectively, wrote the following: ‘The “sounding out” processes in reading and spelling are somewhat different, since in spelling the meaning and whole spoken form of the word are known, whereas the whole point of this method of word attack is to discover those things’ (p. 70). That was the version of s.p. used in the Clackmannanshire study: children were taught from the start to ‘discover’ the ‘whole spoken form of the word’ (and hence its meaning, if the word was orally familiar) by saying sounds for the letters from left to right and blending (synthesising) those sounds. And yet a year later, in his 2003 ‘Sound Sense’ paper, Brooks was saying that the National Literacy Strategy version of phonics was synthetic, despite the fact that children were not 'discovering' the spoken form of the target word as they already knew it. That was clearly not s.p. in the Clackmannanshire sense, and this, I think, has meant some ongoing confusion.They wrote:The results for our study suggests that there is a persistent effect for those classified as non-native English speakers and economically disadvantaged (as measured by free school meal status). The effect persists for these children who enter school with significant literacy deficits and is at least 0.10 of a standard deviation on the reading test at age 11. This is impressive given that the phonics approach is only actively taught up to the age of 7. Without a doubt it is high enough to justify the fixed cost of a year’s intensive training support to teachers. Furthermore, it contributes to closing gaps based on disadvantage and (initial) language proficiency by family background.
I hold firmly to the view that as it was the 2005 Clackmannanshire study which apparently prompted the Education and Skills Committee to recommend a large-scale comparative study, the Clackmannanshire approach should have been one of those investigated. That study was never done, and the 2016 Machin et al. study is no substitute. This needs to be rectified if a future study is done. I have mentioned this in recent private correspondence with Prof. Brooks, as he is a co-author of the 2018 Torgerson et al. tertiary review, where the following statement appears under ‘Conclusions’: ‘But what is required above all are large field trials of different phonics approaches and different phonics “dosages”. We called for such an approach in our review of phonics teaching in 2006, and a decade later we make the same call.’