Nonsense words spell a nonsensical future

14th January 2011 at 00:00

Wendy Scott and her colleagues (Letters, January 7) express their concerns about the proposed phonics teaching in the nursery and reception years, and the phonics test in Year 1. Yet the evidence for her concerns is not strong. The proposals in the recent Government white paper have the laudable aim of tackling the continuing high levels of failure in teaching reading in this country and have been broadly welcomed, especially by parents.

She claims that in "successful models elsewhere" the formal teaching of reading does not begin until children are six or seven. This is selective and unrepresentative. In Nordic and some other European countries school does start at six or seven, but such children have been in nurseries from much younger ages, with teaching during this time. Such countries are characterised by much less complex and irregular first languages than English. In France, where the language shares a similar complexity to English, formal teaching in school starts at the age of four.

Better still to look more widely. In South Korea and Shanghai (which topped the recent Pisa survey on reading), and in Hong Kong and Singapore (fourth and fifth in the same survey), learning to read at four is the norm.

The research supports the earlier start. Children in Clackmannanshire, taught with synthetic phonics at four, were three and a half years ahead when tested again at the age of 11. Holding children back when they are able and eager to learn does not seem sensible.

Christopher Jolly, Managing director, Jolly Learning, Chigwell, Essex.

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