Use of synthetic phonics won Ofsted's praise

4th February 2011 at 00:00

An article on the Ofsted report Reading by Six: how the best schools do it ("Read our lips, says Ofsted: phonics is not a panacea", November 19) gave the impression that the report was critical of the teaching of synthetic phonics, in which children are taught how sounds are represented by letters and how to blend sounds to read words.

In fact, the report strongly promotes adherence to synthetic phonics in primary schools, finding that "the diligent, concentrated and systematic teaching of phonics is central to the success of all the schools that achieve high reading standards in key stage 1".

It draws on the practice of 12 outstanding schools across England to illuminate what works. The schools represent a diverse range of communities and use various synthetic phonics programmes, but they have striking features in common. "They are passionate in their belief that every child can learn to read ... Rigorous, intensive and systematic phonics teaching underpins reading, spelling and writing."

The report emphasises the importance of training and the commitment of headteachers and reading managers to assure quality and drive improvement.

It counters the myth that good synthetic phonics teaching encourages a narrow and exclusive literacy curriculum. All the schools emphasised speaking and listening skills, with examples of learning new vocabulary across the curriculum, speaking in sentences, listening to teachers reading high-quality books, learning how books and stories work, and role play. As their reading and writing skills developed, children were given opportunities to apply their phonic skills more widely.

It is clear throughout the report that children are enthusiastic about learning to read when synthetic phonics is well taught. At Trenance Infant School in Newquay, five and six-year-olds, seeing a map of the imaginary kingdom of Narnia, were heard "reading the names of the places aloud, that is, sounding out each letter and then blending the sounds together to read the unknown words ... entirely independently and without prompting from adults."

It was found that consistent teaching has "a substantial impact on eliminating behavioural problems because the pupils are so engaged."

In one school, two boys have extra lessons with a teaching assistant. When they are able to blend the sounds to read several short sentences, "their delight in their achievements is palpable".

"The best primary schools in England teach virtually every child to read regardless of the social and economic circumstances," says the report. "If some schools can do this, it should be a moral imperative for all primary schools."

Elizabeth Nonweiler, Teach to Read, Berkshire.

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