Teaching reading

18/03/2022
Bedales Pre-Prep, Dunannie

In a blog post, Head of Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie Fiona Read and University of Cambridge Teaching Associate Harriet Rhodes lend support to a campaign for government to reduce its emphasis on the use of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading, and instead for teachers to be allowed greater autonomy.

In January, researchers from the Institute of Education at UCL published the results of a study into the way that primary school children in England are taught to read, and concluded that an emphasis on synthetic phonics is inflexible, unfair and fails children.

In synthetic phonics, children are first encouraged to pronounce the individual sounds in words, and then to blend them together to make words. Supporters claim benefits in terms of literacy, and particularly so for disadvantaged pupils. However, use of synthetic phonics, or at least the extent of their use, has been controversial. Critics have argued that phonics training only helps children to perform in tests, and that it does not develop understanding or encourage a love of reading. Research shows that teachers feel pressured by the compulsory screening check, with a survey of teachers finding that synthetic phonics was their main focus for teaching reading. Importantly, the UCL researchers argue that claims for the effectiveness of synthetic phonics are not underpinned by the latest evidence.

Fiona and Harriet explain: “Phonics is a useful tool as a part of a greater whole, but limiting children’s experiences of learning to read to an adult-directed, dry and reductive approach is counter intuitive. Children are motivated to read if it is fun.”

Whilst Fiona and Harriet acknowledge that there are some strengths to England’s current approach, they are concerned by the demise of a balanced approach to the teaching of reading, and by the straitjacket government’s enthusiasm for phonics places upon teachers. They conclude: “The UCL report underlines the urgent need for those in the DfE to listen to the experts, and the open letter to the Education Secretary from educators and academics, urging a reassessment of the place of phonics based on the evidence and the greater autonomy of teachers, is one we wholeheartedly endorse.”

To read the full article, click here.

Bedales Pre-prep, Dunannie | Fiona Read | Harriet Rhodes