No part of schooling is more vulnerable to swings of fashion than reading. Real books, look-and-say and various phonics methods have all had their day. Most recently in England, the Rose review advocated synthetic phonics as an answer to the difficulties of the estimated 35,000 children who leave school south of the border without even the most basic reading skills. The study of the work in Clackmannanshire schools found that a blitz of this type of phonics ensured that struggling readers moved ahead and stayed ahead.
The danger is that we end up trying to provide a single, simple solution to a complex problem and that teachers' professional judgment is trampled in the rush to orthodoxy. It is worth remembering that the Rose review proposed that synthetic phonics should run alongside real books, play, rhyme and the encouragement of speaking and listening. It also said that the decision about when the formal process of reading starts should be left to teachers.
A letter from more than 100 early years specialists to our sister paper, The TES, last week bemoaned the imposition of "approved" phonics programmes on four year olds. As we report (p12-13), there is compelling evidence about what works - the Reading Recovery programme, which involves tailor-made, one-to-one lessons with struggling youngsters. Expensive at pound;2,000 per child, it's cheap if it is an alternative to an illiterate life spent behind bars.
Teachers are nothing if not inventive and, as East Ayrshire's approach shows, Reading Recovery can be adapted to meet local needs or Scottish circumstances. So what is required is what works, not the orthodoxy of the hour. If, as our report shows, even the most unpromising of youngsters can come off learning support, that is the method that works - whatever it is called.