Age four is too young for phonics

17th February 2006 at 00:00
Thank you for the balanced leader on literacy ("Literacy: the f-word strikes back", TES, February 3). You are right to say that Jim Rose's interim report on early reading has agitated the early years' lobby, for good reason, which we hope will be addressed in the final report.

The Early Years Curriculum Group is advising teachers and parents to "just say no" to formal phonics teaching before five. This is because we want all children to become confident, fluent readers who enjoy books.

We agree phonics has a vital contribution to make to literacy, and know that there are many engaging ways of introducing young children to sounds and letters. There is, however, no convincing evidence that formal phonics teaching before five produces better results later. On the contrary, children in other countries learn to read, write and spell quickly and accurately at a later stage.

Anyone who has worked with the foundation stage knows that, although pupils in it enjoy playing with sounds, they are unlikely to appreciate phonetic approaches to reading in isolation. Even at its best, an emphasis on phonics teaching in large groups prevents more relevant opportunities for learning for children who need to be physically active, socially engaged, and creative in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

At an early age, it is better to develop listening and communication skills, and encourage reading and writing in the broadest sense.

It seems perverse that reception children are to be instructed in large groups when personalised learning is recommended for older children, and when primary teachers have been granted non-contact time to plan differentiated work with their classes.

Our group questions how independent the review of reading can be when colleagues involved with initial teacher training have been told that the debate on phonics is closed.

Mr Rose himself has commented that it is ultimately up to teachers to decide how they work with classes. We call on informed and experienced colleagues at all levels to have the courage to say no to formal phonics before five.

Wendy Scott

Early Years Curriculum Group Peter House Braithwaite Keswick, Cumbria

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