Return to tradition as phonics is favoured

Primary teachers across England are to be trained in using synthetic phonics to help children to read, in a return to traditional literacy teaching.

Each reception class teacher in a school could be given coaching in the technique, in which children build up words from letter sounds. Teacher training is also to be changed to place more emphasis on synthetic phonics.

The changes are expected in an update of the national literacy strategy's teaching framework, to go out to consultation in April for implementation from September.

Other changes will put more emphasis on speaking and listening, and on cross-curricular approaches to teaching English for all primary pupils.

Paul Wagstaff, director of the primary national strategy, said phonics training would be available to reception class teachers, in a "variety of packages", which schools could chose to use.

Some training would be self-study packages for teachers, some would be offered by local authorities. Strategy consultants will visit schools to work with staff.

Mr Wagstaff said: "A key aspect is early reading development. The teaching of phonics will be central to that."

One reading method favoured by the strategy has been tested in 200 schools, under the instruction of ministers, since September. It is based on synthetic phonics, in which children blend sounds together to make words.

The phonics drive is likely to provoke strong protests from some early-years campaigners.

John Bangs, National Union of Teachers head of education, said: "What we do not want is a juggernaut, where all training is geared towards phonics.

That's going to undermine good practice that teachers have built up with literacy consultants over recent years."

John Stannard, the architect of the national literacy strategy, said he was concerned over-emphasis on phonics teaching could create the impression that it was the only approach that was needed.

Jim Rose, Ofsted's former director of inspections, is leading the government review which will influence the literacy strategy update. He told MPs this week that he hoped the strategy would include training teachers in phonics.

Yet government-commissioned research revealed this week that the evidence in favour of using synthetic phonics was "relatively limited".

The study, by York and Sheffield university academies, found no strong evidence that synthetic phonics was more effective than the analytic approach, in which pupils break words into letter sounds.

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* warwick.mansell@tes.co.uk

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