The phonics war is phoney;Letter

5th March 1999 at 00:00
The rivalry over phonics teaching (TES, February 19) would indeed be confusing if teachers needed to take it seriously. Happily, they do not. The advice to teachers through the National Literacy Strategy is clearly set out in the introduction to the Framework for Teaching.

It is vital children are taught to identify and blend sounds for reading and to segment and spell sounds in words for writing. These soundspelling associations are conventions of our writing system and, like learning correct letter formations in handwriting, should be systematically taught and not left for children to infer or invent.

At the same time, the framework is clear that children should learn to use context and grammar to check the accuracy of their reading based on predictions from the context and grammar of the text. This may help them to infer unknown words which, in turn, can be checked back for spelling. This is a systematic approach with mutually reinforcing strategies. There is no dichotomy here.

Whether this is analytic or synthetic depends on which of the many definitions you plump for. For the literacy strategy, the polarisation is largely irrelevant. What matters is that children are systematically taught the phonic code and that they learn to apply this along with other strategies to develop fluent and accurate reading and spelling.

Early evidence from the implementation of the literacy strategy suggests that teachers are increasingly persuaded about its importance, but more needs to be done through support and training to build up their confidence and skills. Ensuring this happens will be our chief concern.

John Stannard Director, National Literacy Strategy 59-65 London Street, Reading

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