Synthetic phonics is not enough

9th December 2005 at 00:00
The United Kingdom Literacy Association endorses many of the statements made in last week's interim report from the Rose review of reading, including the statement that phonics is necessary, but not sufficient, to develop effective and enthusiastic readers.

However, we were disappointed by the recommendation that children should "be taught to use the knowledge and skills that define synthetic phonic work as their first strategy in decoding and encoding print" (paragraph 72).

While it is clear that systematic phonics programmes should adopt an explicit and structured approach, there is no robust research evidence to suggest that synthetic phonics should be the first, or only, method used.

In the teaching of letter-sound relationships, the evidence does not support the universal adoption of any one particular approach; both synthetic and analytic strategies are effective.

Best practice in early reading should draw from a range of strategies (including whole-word recognition of high-frequency words) and strive to ensure that pedagogical approaches are matched to children's needs.

There is no one approach to the teaching of phonics that will address the needs of all learners, nor should teachers' choices be narrowed as they plan a curriculum for children learning to read. Instead, we should continue to build on current successful approaches, which include attention to comprehension and making sense of text as well as letter and word identification, and strive to ensure that all teachers feel confident and competent in the teaching of reading.

Imposing a "one size fits all" strategy on a teaching force that has made great progress in teaching reading in recent years, resulting in our 10-year-old children being among some of the most skilled readers in the world (PIRLS, 2001), would be a backward step.

In our Submission to the review of best practice in the teaching of early reading (www.ukla.org), we outline research evidence which indicates that a systematic, balanced and flexible approach to the teaching of early reading is most effective. We urge the review team to continue to consider the findings of this extensive body of work as it develops its final report.

Dr Jackie Marsh

President, United Kingdom Literacy Association Upton House, Baldock Street

Royston, Hertfordshire

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