More to foundation stage than phonics

Chris Jolly (Letters, TES, July 11) is worried by the arguments of "a small but vociferous lobby" against the early years foundation stage requirement that five-year-olds should write in sentences and phonetically encode complex words

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Chris Jolly (Letters, TES, July 11) is worried by the arguments of "a small but vociferous lobby" against the early years foundation stage requirement that five-year-olds should write in sentences and phonetically encode complex words. That lobby includes the Government's own advisory group, which recently wrote a strong letter to government on this very subject.

On your letters page, Masha Bell suggests Finland's high scores in international literacy tests are because of their excellent pre-school curriculum and later start in formal learning, but are also related to the phonetic basis of the Finnish language, and that this explains why Denmark does not do so well in literacy.

This was not Ofsted's conclusion when it visited Finland and Denmark in 2002. Its team pointed to Denmark's "loose" and "casual" approach to the education of five- to seven-year-olds and the fact that it is provided by people qualified in childcare, not education.

Mr Jolly and Ms Bell are part of a lobby that has helped to introduce more phonics to UK schools and, as a literacy specialist, I am glad. But belief in phonics does not mean you cannot recognise other foundations for learning. The highly structured but play-based, pre-school curriculum I saw in Finland prepares children for literacy through talk, song, art, drama, outdoor activities - and playful phonics.

It also makes them happier. Finland came third in the 2007 Unicef survey of childhood wellbeing in which the UK, shamefully, came bottom. Loose and casual Denmark came second.

Sue Palmer, Literacy consultant and author of `Toxic Childhood', Edinburgh.

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