Nick Gibb: The phonics wars are ‘over’

Minister claims evidence has ‘finally trumped rhetoric’ in the debate over how best to teach reading
26th January 2019, 1:50pm

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Nick Gibb: The phonics wars are ‘over’

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Nick Gibb has declared victory in the phonics wars by saying that the “debate is over” about what is the best way to teach reading. 

The school standards minister said that while there were still commentators “desperately clinging to romantic notions” about reading, it was time for the debate to move on to “which phonics programmes are most effective”.

Mr Gibb was a keynote speaker today at the ‘Wonder Years’ conference on the knowledge-rich curriculum, organised by Parents and Teachers for Excellence. 

In his speech, Mr Gibb said: “Teachers, researchers and policymakers will continue to debate the means for achieving their shared aims at conferences like this one.

“But this doesn’t mean that these debates shouldn’t change and become more focused over time, as more evidence is unearthed teachers can be more confident in what works.”

He went on: “No longer is it tenable for example to argue against using high-quality phonics programme when teaching children to read. The ‘look and say’ versus phonics debate is over.

“While there are still some high profile commentators, desperately clinging to romantic notions about reading instruction, these debates are of no use to teachers and researchers seeking to raise pupil achievement.

“The question for teachers is no longer look and say or phonics, instead the question is which phonics programmes are most effective.”

Mr Gibb said that England’s embrace of an “evidence-based” approach to reading “is bearing fruit”, pointing to England’s rise in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) table.

He added: “Despite decades of opposition to the use of phonics, evidence finally trumped rhetoric, and the debate has focused on how best to use this evidence.”

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