Since the late 1960s psychologists have been looking at how children recognise the printed word and develop phonological awareness. Many of these theories now inform the literacy strategy and the literacy hour guidelines.
Rhona Stainthorp, a lecturer in Reading University's education faculty, believes teachers should have an understanding of this theoretical bedrock. Speaking at a BPS symposium on "Literacy and psychology: what teachers need to know," Dr Stainthorp said: "There is a danger that teachers will merely respond to Government dictates about what, how and where they should teach reading. If they understand why they are doing it, rather than just following a set of rules then they will be more effective."
Dr Diana Hughes, who also lectures at Reading and has studied how children learn to write, believes teachers have unduly high expectations of children's compositional skills at key stage 1.
She studied the literacy learning of 29 children aged between 4 and 7 and concluded that children's overriding concern was with the "secretarial skills" of spelling and writing.
She said: "Learning to write is harder than we think. Children concentrate so hard on the processing or secretarial skills that they often forget what they are trying to say. Teachers should lighten compositional demands in order to support them through this."