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Former laureate warns of threat to joy of reading

The increasing emphasis on using phonics in primary schools, backed by faulty evidence, risks turning children off reading, according to a report published today.

In his introduction to the report by the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA), former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen accuses ministers of pushing the approach to reading because it corresponds with "their party's philosophy-of-the-moment".

The report, Teaching Reading: what the evidence says, warns that placing more focus on phonics - which the coalition Government plans to do - will make children enjoy books less. "Restricting them to an unbalanced diet, the thin gruel of a phonics-dominated approach, is a recipe for lowering standards and turning children against the written word," it states.

Mr Rosen writes that ministers of different political shades had given their backing to phonics without recognising its drawbacks, which include that English is "not written in a consistently 'phonic' way". "By and large (ministers) don't listen to teachers and they don't look at research - particularly if it's research about how children learn," he writes. "Instead they look for 'favourites', experts whose views correspond with their party's philosophy-of-the-moment".

Supporters of phonics, which have included the right-wing think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, have pointed to individual examples of schools where reading standards have improved after the introduction of more rigorous synthetic phonics. But Mr Rosen suggested that standard research practice had been abandoned in some case studies, as pupils had not been compared to a suitable control group.

The UKLA, a professional association made up of teachers and education academics, calls in its report for schools to use a balanced approach to reading, which includes teaching pupils to pronounce written words, and promoting understanding and engagement.

The report notes that Clackmannanshire, a local authority in Scotland celebrated for its use of phonics, had seen below-average scores in Scotland's national reading tests. "It makes no sense to direct all England's primary schools up the Clackmannanshire cul-de-sac", it says.

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