ALL 25,000 Year 3 teachers will be trained in phonics next year as part of the Government's drive to boost reading standards.
Ministers are re-examining the literacy strategy after schools failed to reach this year's English key stage 2 targets. Today's primary performance tables highlight the wide gap between the 2004 target and schools' current performance.
Phonics will be at the heart of the drive to improve literacy. Inspectors recently criticised understanding of the method among Years 3 and 4 teachers.
A group of academics will attend a summit in the new year to review research on different types of phonics and to evaluate the strategy. Feelings run high on which is the most effective system.
Professor David Hopkins, head of the Department for Education and Skills'
standards and effectiveness unit, said: "Reading is a big concern. There has been a shift in emphasis and phonics has a different place in the teaching of reading and spelling now than it had five years ago.
"The debate on the mix of synthetic and analytic phonics is a crucial one. Synthetic phonics is important for reading and analytic phonics helps with spelling, so we need to get the balance right. We also need to look at the balance for different groups. Boys may do better with a different blend from girls."
Synthetic phonics is the linking of letter sounds to make words, while analytic phonics is breaking down words into letters.
The group's work will follow on from that of the University of Toronto which produces the last of its three annual evaluation reports on the literacy and numeracy strategies at the beginning of next year.
Professor Hopkins hopes it will help explain why English test results stalled at 75 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the expected level this year for the third year running. The target was 80 per cent.
Reading standards showed a decline for the second year from a high of 86 per cent in 2000 to 83 per cent this year. In maths, 73 per cent of pupils reached the expected level - a 2 per cent increase on last year but still short of the 75 per cent target.
Education minister Stephen Twigg, who took over responsibility for primaries this week, said he was confident the Government's 2002 targets would be met next year - but admitted the 2004 targets of 85 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving the maths and English standards were "very ambitious".
The 2004 targets require all 150 English education authorities to get at least 78 per cent of pupils to level 4 in both English and maths - just 16 managed this year. And 63 authorities have seen results slide back this year - compared to 40 who dropped back in 2001.
Mr Twigg said: "This year overall has seen the best-ever results at key stage 2, we have seen real progress in literacy and numeracy since 1997. I acknowledge there is still a lot more we need to do. Too many young people are not reaching the expected levels."
The DfES will introduce new catch-up materials in writing for Years 5 and 6 boys, reading training for literacy co-ordinators and assessment training for English and maths co-ordinators.
Missed targets, 2
Primary league tables, 6-7
Primary Forum, 19