A starting point for all

5th September 2008 at 01:00
At the moment, it all seems unnaturally quiet on the phonics front. The debate of recent years came to a climax last September when all schools were ordered to teach synthetic phonics in discrete, short lessons to pupils by the age of 5.

For reception and Year 1 teachers, many of whom had been surprised to discover they were not already teaching phonics, the current calm comes after a frenzy of training, guidance and planning.

As one teacher admitted earlier this year to The TES: "It's almost like I and a lot of other people have gone a bit phonics mad".

But reading is unlikely to ever dip out of the public gaze for long.

It is too early to discern the effect of phonics on the key stage 1 results this year. Not all schools are teaching synthetic phonics as required, and if they were, it makes most difference to pupils who are on the verge of reading - usually at the end of reception or the beginning of Year 1.

But next year will be different. Then a standstill, or drop, could trouble ministers. However, the real political fallout is likely to be neatly sidestepped - any stall in 2010 will only come to light after there has been a general election.

Imagine, though, that results do rise. Would that be the end of the reading wars?

It seems unlikely. Phonics is a general method, a starting-point for all children. But for those who are struggling the most, the Government has backed a programme of one-to-one tuition called Every Child A Reader. At the core of this is Reading Recovery, a programme of individualised support which uses phonics alongside other methods to help children who have not learned to read after a year of phonics instruction.

So next year there will be more phonics for all and more mixed methods for some. Success could be due to either or both strategies. But it will only arise from the hard work of teachers and their pupils.

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