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Phonics not the best way of helping older readers, study finds

Secondary schools in the UK should not rely on phonics alone to support the tens of thousands of children each year who are still struggling to read by the time they leave primary education, new research has found.

 Systematic synthetic phonics has been heavily promoted by the government for use with younger students. A report on phonics by Ofsted in 2011 also suggested that the approach should be central to the teaching of reading in secondary schools and colleges.

But a new analysis out today says that, on average, it has less impact with older children than interventions based on improving comprehension – such as practicing taking notes of key points and summarising what is read.

The findings from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), which was set up by the government to fund research, conclude any single approach is “highly unlikely” to help 11-year-olds who are struggling with reading. It recommends teachers are given the training to enable them to diagnose individual children’s needs and offer a range of support.

Greg Brooks, emeritus professor at Sheffield University and author of What Works for Children with Literacy Difficulties?, warned that the report only gives an overview. “There is a danger that superficial reading will lead to preferring comprehension approaches over phonics, come what may,” he said.

Last year 75,000 children started secondary school without the expected level in reading. The Department for Education allocated £53.8 million was allocated to schools in 2013 to help children struggling with reading or maths to catch up.

Read the full version of this story in the 20 June edition of TES on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Subscribe to the magazine here. Or pick it up in all good newsagents.

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