Sound basis for beginner readers?

16th March 2007 at 00:00
I would take issue with Professor Maggie Snowling on the subject of catch-up programmes for beginner readers (TES, March 2).

The phonics teaching recommended by the inquiry led by Jim Rose, Ofsted's former head of primary, sharpens and develops phonological awareness, allowing virtually all children to become proficient readers. Some need extra help to acquire basic skills, and phonological awareness is an integral element. A whole-language approach mixed with phonics, which Professor Snowling proposes, interferes with the integrity of the alphabetic code, gives mixed messages and may well confuse teachers who are grappling with the systematic teaching of phonics.

In West Dunbarton, one of the poorest areas in the UK, a synthetic phonics approach is used in mainstream and for those who need extra help. The illiteracy rates in its schools have dropped from more than 20 per cent to 6 per cent this year, with a projected drop to about 1 per cent next year.

Schools using a synthetic phonics approach in England report similar results.

Training teachers to use a synthetic phonics approach as the core knowledge requirement for learning to read, and training assistants to do any extension work is surely "joined-up" thinking. It is also cost-effective.

The Reading Reform Foundation has constantly challenged the Government's Early Literacy Support (ELS) initiative, calling for the withdrawal of programmes under the Department for Education and Skills' ELS umbrella. The jewel in the department's remedial crown, Reading Recovery, is not only hugely expensive but has also attracted worldwide criticism. While Sound Linkage costs less and is a better designed programme, it shares many whole-language characteristics with Reading Recovery and Catch Up.

Geraldine Carter

Member of the Reading Reform Foundation,

Oxford

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