Primary phonics helps struggling secondary students, research shows

Helen Ward


Phonics techniques commonly used with primary school pupils also provide a significant boost to struggling readers at secondary level, new research suggests.

Low-attaining students in Year 7 can rapidly improve their reading ability by spending up to an hour a day on a phonics-based programme that includes deciphering nonsense words, according to a study published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The government's drive to embed phonics in primaries has led to a change in the curriculum and, controversially, the introduction of a phonics check for six-year-olds.

And according to researchers at Durham University, including phonics techniques alongside other approaches with secondary students shows “considerable promise as an effective catch-up intervention for low-attaining readers”.

Students using the Fresh Start phonics programme would make an extra three months’ progress in reading comprehension over a year compared with their classmates, the research estimates.

Some schools involved in the study reported even greater gains, with students potentially increasing their reading age by two years.

But the academics warn that some pupils find basic phonics practice patronising and adds that the teaching style is more usually seen in primary schools.

“Fresh Start teachers must not use their own techniques of spellings, word recognition and comprehension. The letters of the alphabet must not be read by their names, only sounds, for example,” explains the report, which is available on the EEF website.

Helen Maddison, head of learning support at South Holderness Technology College in Hull, which took part in the study, said pupils could increase their reading age from 8 to 10 by using the techniques.

“We’re due an Ofsted visit and we can’t wait to get Ofsted in because these are interactive, fun lessons and the progress students make is unbelievable," she said. "We have about 40 or 50 students coming to us from primary [school] at level 3 in English. For the trial, we found some would make two years’ progress [in a year].”

Similar progress was made by children using the Accelerated Reader programme, which was also examined by the EEF.

The scheme, already used in 2,000 schools, asks students to read books from a selection “banded” at their reading level and then sets them computer-based quizzes. The teacher receives the quiz results so they can check the book selection, set goals and give rewards.

It was estimated that students using the Accelerated Reader programme made progress equivalent to an extra three months over a year. Pupils eligible for free school meals made an extra five months’ progress compared with similar pupils who did not take part.

Related stories: 

Phonics not the best way of helping older readers, study finds – 20 June 2014

Imposing synthetic phonics is 'almost abuse', says academic – 28 January 2014

Phonics check has increased teaching of nonsense words, official evaluation finds – 1 May 2014





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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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