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Letters Extra: Not always the answer

Reading scores at 11 have stalled. At seven there isn't much improvement.

Instead of the inquiry into the teaching of reading proposed by the Chief HMI, the government has prescribed a strong dose of phonics in Year 3. But is this really the answer?

Phonics plays an essential part in learning to read any alphabetic script. But there's more to reading than phonics.

The QCA's analyses of last year's test results show that seven-year-olds who failed to make the grade were held back by difficulty with matters such as reading beyond individual words to make sense of phrases and sentences, using more than one strategy in attempting new words and building on understanding of one part of a text to make sense of another.

11-year-olds fell short on matters such as scanning the text to locate information, grasping main ideas and thinking about the implications of what they read.

Increasing attention to phonics will not remedy all these failings. It may even compound them, as it reduces the time available to focus on reading texts for their meaning.

Perhaps it is time to revive the drive to make education an evidence-based profession. We could start with QCA evidence, then go on to the rigorous international comparisons which show our teachers to be doing a pretty good job in the teaching of reading.

According to the OECD's 2000 survey of 15-year-olds, the UK's mean score on a test of reading literacy was seventh out of the 32 member countries involved, well above France, Germany and the United States.

Henrietta Dombey
President, United Kingdom Reading Association
The Maltings, Green Drift,
Royston, Herts

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