Phonics publisher in legal threat to ministers

20th May 2011 at 01:00
Fury at being left off official list

The publisher of a phonics programme which was left off an official list of schemes is considering legal action against the Department for Education.

Alan Davies, executive director of Thrass (Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills), said that he was shocked when his programme was rejected after the criteria were changed by the coalition Government.

He said that he had received a letter from civil servants telling him that it had been omitted because of technical details. The dispute amounted to a difference in understanding of the way pupils are taught to blend sounds, he said, and because it had elements of analytic phonics, not just synthetic.

Mr Davies' programme did meet this criterion for inclusion on a different list under the rules of the previous government, but under the Coalition - which has made significant political mileage out of backing phonics - this has suddenly changed.

"It's bizarre," he said. "To say we don't blend sounds all through the words is wrong."

Mr Davies admitted that his programme does use some analytic phonics - whereby if a child can already read a word, they are encouraged to use that knowledge to read other words - and therefore does not meet ministers' new criteria. But he insisted that he should still have a right of appeal.

"There is no appeal process. I am looking at taking legal action against the Government."

The Department for Education makes it clear the list of seven programmes and three resources published on its website does not "constitute an endorsement of the products themselves and should not be regarded as a list of approved programmes or resources".

But another publisher, who did not want to be named, said that inclusion on the list had long-term business implications because it is thought the same "core criteria" will be used to draw up a list of approved phonics products, for which schools can claim up to #163;3,000 in matched funding.

This "approved" list is due to be published by September. The Government has said that the two lists are not the same and that products rejected from the self-assessment list may be included on this later list.

The unnamed publisher's scheme was rejected because the product, which is designed for children with special needs for use alongside a mainstream programme, was not a complete programme.

"They have taken a list of criteria for systematic synthetic phonics and applied it in a way that shows they have no understanding what is going on. DfE have this mantra that they are not saying this is not a good product, they are just saying it does not fit the criteria. But that is double speak."

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive officer of NASEN, the special needs organisation, said: "My understanding is that the funding is for products which are designed to prepare children for the end of Year 1 test.

"Some of the resources which are being rejected are not designed to teach phonics to all reception and Year 1 children; that is not their purpose."

A DfE spokesman said: "Any provider turned down for the self-assessment list is able to submit revised self-assessments alongside revised products.

"Publishers not included on the self-assessment list may still be included on the approved list.

"It would not be appropriate to comment on whether Thrass - or any other provider - was turned down for the self-assessment list as this is commercially confidential information."

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