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Letters extra: let's return to sounding out

Schools in some local authorities see remarkable improvements in children's literacy when infants start with the old-fashioned c-a-t (sounding out, phonics). These are in places as far apart as Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, Essex, Bristol, South Gloucester and Merseyside. Parallel with this improvement is a dramatic reduction (almost to vanishing point) in special needs in reading which is the bulk of today's special needs.

This very oldnew approach requires that the schools see the flaws in the National Literacy Strategy, and decide that reading is NOT (contrary to fashionable wisdom) a "psycholinguistic guessing game". Indeed, far from being a strategy to read, guessing is a danger signal. We could save pound;millions if government stopped offering flawed guidance to schools. I wonder who will be the first prominent teacher-trainer to have the courage to say, "We have been mis-training infant teachers"? Which LEA will be the first to drop the National Literacy Strategy totally? Why did LEAs ever accept it in the first place?

Seventeen per cent of the education budget in Knowsley goes on special needs. Well-taught phonics is brisk, about three times faster than the NLS, and the savings in reduced special needs (not to mention the spin-off in truancy, delinquency, etc) would permit a considerable cut in council tax. Teacher job satisfaction soars. Subsequent calls for compensation from dyslexics are prevented. Why is there such resistance to this move? Why are councillors and education committees not casting around for something better (and cheaper) than the NLS?

One scheme producing good results is PhonoGraphix, from Florida, but why not use a home-grown programme such as Jolly Phonics or my Step by Step (now published as c-a-t = CAT)? And why has the National Foundation for Educational Research not been monitoring teaching methods over the past 50 years?

Mona McNee

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