Standards chief disappoints phonics lobby

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Campaigners who want the literacy strategy to place greater emphasis on phonics for the youngest children have suffered a setback.

Professor David Hopkins, the Department for Education and Skills standards supremo, has told a summit of reading experts that he sees no grounds for radical changes to the strategy, which is being reviewed by ministers.

At the seminar, members of the Reading Reform Foundation, which is highly critical of the strategy, clashed with other teachers and researchers. The latter feared that the summit, called by Professor Hopkins, would strengthen the position of the foundation, which wants the basic phonic code to be taught to first-term reception children before any other reading methods are introduced.

The literacy strategy calls for early phonics teaching, but wants methods, such as looking at books or using context to decipher words, to be used when appropriate.

After listening to the debate, Professor Hopkins, director of the standards and effectiveness unit, said guidance on teaching phonics might be fine-tuned, but that he saw no grounds for radical change.

Instead, there will be more training to help teachers understand not only teaching techniques but how children learn and the links between decoding and comprehension. Teachers of Years 2 and 3 will get particular attention.

The seminar will help shape a policy paper due to be published by the DfES in May.

Dr Greg Brooks, of Sheffield University, said research showed the importance of phonics. But the jury was still out on exactly what approach to phonics teaching was best. "We need a properly designed large-scale study," he said. "We need to take the profession with us."

Kevan Collins, director of the new National Primary Strategy, echoed him, adding that no studies had been done comparing the "phonics first and only" approach with one that mixed the same phonics into a richer curriculum.

Primary Forum, 21, Primary View, 25

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