At last, the approved phonics programme
Letters and Sounds is structured in six phases. The first introduces simple songs and games, preparing children for phonics. Phase two teaches basic consonants. By phase six, the scheme concentrates on spelling for fluent readers.
Beverley Hughes, the minister for children and families, launched the scheme this week at Bannockburn primary in Greenwich, south London.
"Basic reading and writing is the cornerstone of education," she said. "We are determined to improve children's literacy skills. We must get it right at the very beginning."
Robert Carpenter, headteacher at Bannockburn, has piloted the scheme since 2006.
"It has raised children's expectations," he said, "and exceeded teachers'
expectations of what the children can do. There's pace and progression."
Five-year-old Ella-Mai Marshall is enthusiastic. "We play games and sing songs, and learn to think and read," she said. "Then, when we get taller, we can do more work for our teacher."
Letters and Sounds comes a year after Jim Rose, the Government's primary adviser, concluded that all five-year-olds should be taught to read using synthetic phonics.
The new programme replaces previous official schemes, Playing with Sounds and Progression in Phonics, which were slower paced and placed less emphasis on sounding words through. But teachers are free to choose whichever programme they want.
Chris Jolly, publisher of Jolly Phonics, the largest commercial scheme, said that sales dropped significantly last year while teachers waited for the official publication to be announced.
"It's right that the Government should provide firm guidance," he said.
"But it was positioned as competitive with commercial programmes.
"In practice, it has no classroom materials. It's just guidance for teachers."