Don't buy this phonics snake oil

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
I endorse Wendy Scott's concern about the early introduction of phonics to four-year-olds in England (TES, February 17).

It is true that young children enjoy playing with sounds and words, but requiring them to understand the vagaries of phonics is likely to be counter-productive. Why are the English so obsessed with the view "the earlier the better"? Elsewhere in Europe children are introduced to reading and writing much later but success rates are higher.

We have a great deal to learn from New Zealand and Scotland where the emphasis is in exploring and playing with language in the context of play experiences. While a phonetic approach appears to work quite well in Finland, where the language is highly phonetic and the focus is on speaking and listening, there is greater uncertainty about the value of early phonics in England, where the language is highly irregular.

Ministers need to listen to those who understand the needs of young children rather than be seduced by the purveyors of snake oil and magic fixes.

Learning to read is a complex task demanding a range of approaches.

Reliance on one approach and early introduction risks putting children off reading rather than allowing them the chance to explore and enjoy the rich world of books.

John Wadsworth

Lecturer in early childhood education, Goldsmiths college

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