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Teachers to pick phonics schemes

Publishers give their own schemes top marks in self-assessment on DfES website after Government changes tack.

THE GOVERNMENT has abandoned plans for a system of assessment for commercial phonics schemes. Instead, companies are being asked to assess their own schemes on a website set up by the Department for Education and Skills, where there is a list of 10 criteria to measure their products against.

This week, 18 commercial schemes were listed. On the self-assessment form provided, all 18 said their programmes fulfilled each of the criteria.

The commercial schemes will run alongside official government advice on how to teach phonics, which is being produced by the Primary National Strategy.

Publishers at Hodder, which is creating the "Fast Phonics First"

scheme, welcomed the move as it allowed teachers to use their professional judgment to choose the scheme that suited them.

John Bangs, the National Union of Teachers head of education, said: "The Government's shift on this is to be welcomed. But teachers should not take the self-assessment forms at face value. Schools should be rigorous in their analysis of their needs and make decisions on what is useful to them."

The change follows pressure from early years practitioners. Last December, a group of 100 experts wrote to The TES to complain about the "kitemark"

system, in which a DfES panel would decide whether to approve schemes.

The experts argued that this would have reduced teachers to technicians, and conflicted with a recommendation in last year's Rose review of early reading which recommended that teachers use their professional judgment.

Publishers are also believed to have argued that the vetting scheme would have been an administrative nightmare.

However, the change drew a muted response from teachers who are sceptical about the Government's overall approach to phonics teaching.

Although the DfES now says teachers should be free to choose their own scheme, it still advises that once they have chosen one, they should stick with it, rather than "picking and mixing" from different programmes.

Some teachers argue that they should be free to tailor provision according to their pupils' needs, if necessary using several schemes.

Sue Vermes, the head of Headington Quarry foundation stage school in Oxford, said: "There's a question as to whether foundation stage teachers should be wholeheartedly adopting any particular scheme.

"Imposing one form of learning on children who may have different learning styles and maturity really does run against the Government's supposed enthusiasm for personalised learning."

A DfES spokesperson said the change of stance was in line with its approach of ensuring that teachers could make informed decisions about the type of teaching support they chose.

* www.standards.dfes.gov.ukphonics

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