“Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society.”
(Garrison Keillor. 2008)
The Whole Language Backlash:
Many education academics remain vehemently opposed to the direct, discrete and systematic teaching of a body of phonics knowledge and its use as the prime mechanism for decoding print. Even today they campaign to overturn the 2006 Rose review’s recommendations (Wyse & Bradbury 2022) and every course of action taken by every colour of government following the Rose review, each designed to increase the take-up of high-quality phonics work for teaching word decoding and spelling.
”Phonics has been used on both sides of the debate for over one hundred years, often as an incidental technique to analyse an unknown word after identification by a teacher. It is the exclusive, systematic teaching of the English alphabetic code – Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) – as the only technique for initial instruction for decoding of words that is so intensely disputed.”
(italics added. Timothy Mills p84)
”A programme should promote the use of phonics as the route to reading unknown words, before any subsequent comprehension strategies are applied.”
Dominic Wyse (a professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education) wrote that those opposed to the implementation of synthetic phonics should, ”Work politically and professionally to change this direction in policy.” (Wyse. Rose Tinted Spectacles ppt. 2006. bold in original)
In their book Thinking Reading, James and Dianne Murphy describe how ”The political tenets of whole language were inextricably grafted into its methodology…emotive arguments about freedom from authority, autonomy of the individual and subjective construction of reality.” (p34)
”If you have built a career and reputation around downplaying the role of phonics in early reading and advising teachers to teach three-cuing strategies then it is far easier to defeat your opponents by dubbing them conservative than by deploying research evidence.”
(Greg Ashman. https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2019/06/20/political-behaviour/)
The education academics opposed to the statutory introduction of synthetic phonics to England’s schools, acknowledge that ”teaching reading by synthetic phonics can be extremely effective” (Wyse & Goswami p693) when countries have transparent alphabetic codes. However, in their opinion, there is still ”not enough evidence” that providing direct and systematic phonics instruction in discrete lessons, using phonemes from the start, is superior to, ”instruction at levels other than the phoneme” (whole words, syllables, rimes), with all reading instruction ”contextualised” (Wyse & Goswami p701/ Wyse & Bradbury 2022), when it is the opaque English alphabetic code being taught.
So hands up, who hates phonics? Some very influential people…
Phonics Taught in Context / Contextualised Phonics / Embedded Phonics:
”Phonics taught in context, by definition, cannot be systematic, as there is little or no opportunity to control the nature or sequence of the mappings being taught.”
(Prof. Anne Castles)
”The opposite of systematic is embedded instruction in which patterns are taught as they ‘come up’ in text reading” (Heidi Anne Mesmer & Anna Kambach. Beyond Labels&Agendas p65. ILA)
Context can reduce accurate word learning:
”There is actually a name for this type of phonics teaching, “Embedded Phonics”. Sadly the scientific research shows it’s not very effective. See, for example, this 2006 large-scale controlled study, which compared children explicitly taught about spelling using phonics and children taught about phonics in the context of literature, and found that “At the end of 5th grade, spelling-context children had significantly higher comprehension than did literature-context children.”
”However, while important, authentic literature and rich contexts are not a suitable replacement for explicit teaching of phonics decoding skills.”
(Ofsted ‘Education inspection framework: an overview of research’ p20 Jan. 2019)
The Torgerson et al and the NRP meta-analyses:
The educationalists, opposed to the teaching of synthetic phonics, cherry-picked two particular publications, from the extensive range of evidence that the Rose review team considered, to back their view. They singled out the American National Reading Panel (NRP) report and England’s DCSF commissioned, but not peer-reviewed, 2006 Torgerson, Brooks1 and Hall phonics meta-analysis (Wyse & Goswami p693) because both tied in with their ideology, having as their conclusion that there was no substantial evidence, ”that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than another.”
1In 2017, in a chapter for Margaret Clark’s book ‘Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning’, Prof. Brooks appeared to draw back from the conclusion of the Torgerson, Brooks and Hall phonics meta-analysis: ”I was convinced then , and still am, that theory suggests that synthetic phonics is more coherent than analytic phonics as a strategy for young learners working out unfamiliar printed words.” (Prof. Brooks quoted by Jennifer Chew in Nomanis https://www.nomanis.com.au issue 6 )
The Torgerson et al meta-analysis (https://bit.ly/2w1Y14F), although commissioned by the government, carried little weight with the Rose review team. The reasons for this are explained in a report by Parliament’s all-party Committee on Science & Technology, produced after they had examined the evidence base of the Rose review -see paras.22,23,24:
Professor Diane McGuinness, a cognitive scientist trained in statistical analysis, also examined both publications closely. See https://www.dyslexics.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/comment.pdf for her comments on the Torgerson et al (2006) and the NRP (2000) meta-analyses.
Prof. Johnston: An examination of the 2006 Torgerson et al meta-analysis: Summary.
”(T)here are enormous difficulties with meta-analysis research. Without great care, researchers can combine apples and oranges, in which the variables are too dissimilar to be combined.”
Synthetic Phonics or an Analytic / Rime-Analogy Phonics Approach?
Prof. Shanahan was a member of the NRP’s ‘Alphabetics’ sub-group. In 2018 he wrote a blog post with the title ‘Synthetic or systematic phonics? What does research really say?’
Shanahan wrote, ”(A)nalytic approaches focus attention on larger spelling generalizations (like rimes: ab, ad, ag, ack, am, an) and word analogies.” He went on to say that the NRP (2000) came to the conclusion that ”synthetic and analytic phonics are equally good.” He made no mention of the later (2004) Clackmannanshire research which found UK-style synthetic phonics to be more effective.
‘A 2020 Perspective on Research Findings on Alphabetics (PA & Phonics): Implications for Instruction’. Prof. Susan Brady
”Phonics instruction is most effective with a synthetic method. The implications of research on phonics are ever more compelling. The studies that have been done with careful comparisons of analytic versus synthetic methods have shown strong advantages of synthetic approaches.”
Recent studies, ”have shown conclusively that children do not use rhyming endings to decode words; hardly ever decode by analogy to other words, and that ability to dissect words into onsets and rimes has no impact whatsoever on learning to read and spell.”
(D. McGuinness. WCCR p148)
Dr Macmillan also reviewed the rhyme/rime-analogy research. She showed that not one of the three major research claims 1) rhyme awareness is related to reading ability, 2) rhyme awareness affects reading achievement, and 3) rhyme awareness leads to the development of phoneme awareness, was sufficiently supported.
‘Rhyme and reading: A critical review of the research methodology’
”While both synthetic and analytic phonics can be considered systematic to some extent, learning phonics at the phoneme level is more systematic and efficient than onset-rime families… The vast majority of rimes can be read using their component grapheme-phoneme correspondences… Knowledge of phonemes is also a stronger predictor of reading acquisition than knowledge of rimes.”
(Dr. Jennifer Buckingham 2020)
All phonics instruction is not the same:
Analytic phonics, ‘’developed out of the inherent flaws of whole word…’’
The Clackmannanshire Research:
The Clackmannanshire research played a large part in persuading the DfE to introduce systematic synthetic phonics teaching: ”Johnston and Watson (2004) carried out two experiments, one controlled trial and one randomised controlled trial (the gold standard of scientific research) to understand the effects of synthetic phonics teaching on reading and spelling attainment. The research is known as the ‘Clackmannanshire study’. Clackmannanshire is a very deprived area of Scotland. Many of the pupils came from extremely deprived homes and/or had significant educational difficulties – and yet pupils tracked from pre-school to age 11 achieved results in reading and spelling far beyond that expected for their age.” (italics added. DfE. evidence paper p3)
Accelerating the development of reading, spelling and phonemic awareness skills in initial readers.
Johnston & Watson (2004)
A summary: https://www.dyslexics.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Summary-Clackmannanshire-Research.-2004.pdf
”There is also evidence that synthetic phonics instruction is particularly effective. In a widely cited study in Scotland, Johnston & Watson (2004) compared the reading skills of children taught using synthetic phonics with those of a group taught using analytic phonics, and found the former to be more effective.
A subsequent study of 10-year-olds whose early literacy programmes had involved either analytic or synthetic phonics methods found that the pupils taught using synthetic phonics had better word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension (Johnston et al., 2012).”
(Prof. Daniel Muijs. Ofsted)
Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10-year-old boys and girls. R. Johnston, S. McGeown, J. Watson. 2011.
”A comparison was made of 10-year-old boys and girls who had learnt to read by analytic or synthetic phonics methods as part of their early literacy programmes…Overall, the group taught by synthetic phonics had better word reading, spelling, and reading comprehension.”
R. Johnston and J. Watson described the differences between the analytic and synthetic phonics used in their Clackmannanshire research:
”As analytic phonics as well as synthetic phonics can involve sounding and blending, how can these two methods be distinguished? According to the National Reading Panel (2000, 2-89), in analytic phonics children analyse letter sounds after the word has been identified, whereas in synthetic phonics the pronunciation of the word is discovered through sounding and blending. Another critical difference is that synthetic phonics teaches children to sound and blend right at the start of reading tuition, after the first few letter sounds have been taught. In analytic phonics children learn words at first largely by sight, having their attention drawn only to the initial letter sounds. Only after all of the letter sounds have been taught in this way is sounding and blending introduced. It can be seen therefore that the phonics approach advocated in the National Literacy Strategy is of the analytic type’‘
(italics added. Johnston & Watson. Accelerating Reading and Spelling with Synthetic Phonics)
As part of their mission to overturn the synthetic phonics initiative, the education academics attempted to subvert the Clackmannanshire research because, unlike the 2006 Torgerson et al meta-analysis and NRP report, it concluded that: ”(S)ynthetic phonics was a more effective approach to teaching reading, spelling and phonemic awareness than analytic phonics.” (Johnston & Watson, 2004 p351)
The academics disseminated myths and misinformation about the Clackmannanshire research -see ‘Fact and Fiction about the Clackmannanshire study’, which also includes a comment on the Torgerson et al meta-analysis:
Also, see Chapter 9 in Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychology in Practice: Implementation and Impact: The trials & tribulations of changing how reading is taught in schools: synthetic phonics & the educational backlash. Johnston & Watson.
The ‘balanced’ word reading approach (NLS. Searchlights) was used in England’s schools for nearly a decade and is still used in some schools outside the discrete phonics lesson. It is notable that those in education who are opposed to synthetic phonics, have to this day, ”failed to demonstrate that their preferred method yields as good or better results than a synthetic phonics programme. Their method seems to be to merely attack the Clackmannanshire study and thereby imply that the approach that they advocate is as good or better, without collecting any supportive data.” (Johnston & Watson)
”Those who have an opposing view [of synthetic phonics] have yet to produce any data showing that their favoured approach produces greater long-term benefits.”
(Prof. Rhona Johnston)
Equivocation and Undermining Continue:
The state-funded Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) was set up in 2011 to collect and produce hard evidence. A school governor said that she was ”frequently directed to the EEF as the “last-word” on education research”.
Over the past decade, the EEF have used significant amounts of public money to research a number of programmes that purport to improve reading but have very little in common with high-quality phonics. They include Rhythm for Reading (rhythm-based exercises -see Room 101) the GraphoGame Rime project (based on Goswami’s rhythm and rhyme theory-see above) and two Reading Recovery derivatives: Catch Up Literacy (see Room 101) and Switch-on Reading (see below).
In 2020, the EEF updated its guidance for ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage One’
As in the first edition, the EEF say (p21) that ”Only a few studies have compared synthetic and analytic phonics, and there is not yet enough evidence to make a confident recommendation to use one approach rather than the other.” The only reference given for the second half of this statement is the 2006 Torgerson et al phonics meta-analysis -see critiques of the Torgerson et al meta-analysis on this page.
In this 2020 update, the EEF undermines the DfE by recommending the use of Reading Recovery (RR) as a KS1 intervention (p47), despite it being ”a multi-cueing, non-systematic approach” (Sir Jim Rose), with the justification that RR, ”is highlighted by the EIF guidebook [https://guidebook.eif.org.uk/programme/reading-recovery] for the positive impacts found in several high-quality evaluations conducted in America.”
Prof. McGuinness is far from alone in pointing out that, ”Independent research showed that RR had no effect. It is extremely costly to implement, re. teacher training, tutoring time, and materials. Not only this, but RR “research” is notorious for misrepresenting the data.”
For comprehensive info. on Reading Recovery including Prof. James Chapman’s comments and supporting papers refuting all the RR evaluations ”highlighted by the EIF guidebook” – see Room 101
Teacher-blogger ‘Andrew Old’ is concerned that the EEF gives, ”power and influence to educationalists to promote their pet theories of learning.” In his blog post ‘Teachers on the Edge’ (2020/09/06 https://andrewold.substack.com/) he wrote, ”The EEF is now a law unto itself in the agendas it promotes…And nobody can work out who, other than the opponents of phonics, wanted the EEF to spend money on the latest iteration of Reading Recovery [Switch-on Reading].”
See Room 101 for ‘Switch-on Reading’ info.
Ending the Reading Wars?
In a recent paper (2018) ‘Ending the Reading Wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert’
http://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/VxwbDqUtcnb9bBjxtuGZ/full Profs. Castles, Rastle and Nation came to the view (p.13) that there was insufficient evidence as yet to determine whether the synthetic phonics approach was superior to the analytic phonics approach, citing, yet again, the NRP and Torgerson et al (2006) meta-analyses.
Commenting on this paper in her petition to the Scottish Education committee, Anne Glennie pointed out that, ”Analytic phonics is, by its nature, an eclectic approach and therefore cannot be delivered systematically or be part of a programme of work…Synthetic phonics, theoretically speaking, makes more sense –as teachers have more control over the sequence and speed of letter-sound learning, ensuring instruction is optimal and ‘can be matched’ to children’s needs. Castles et al make reference to this too: ‘’On the face of it, synthetic phonics would seem to have some clear advantages: By introducing grapheme-phoneme correspondences individually, it is possible to control the learning environment more effectively and to ensure that each correspondence is taught explicitly and in an optimal sequence”
(Anne Glennie https://www.parliament.scot/S5_Education/Meeting%20Papers/20191030ES_Meeting_papers.pdf)
In a chapter (2019 https://bit.ly/2QkEJRp) discussing systematic and explicit phonics instruction, Drs. J. Buckingham, R. Wheldall and Prof. K. Wheldall commented on ‘Torgerson et al’ and ‘Castles et al’ views on analytic phonics v synthetic phonics:
”They are cautious about concluding that synthetic phonics is more effective than other systematic approaches; however, it is not clear that alternatives to synthetic phonics meet the criteria for systematic and explicit teaching. These are the critical characteristics that are overwhelmingly supported in scientific research and expert reviews” (p.62)
(J. Buckingham, R. Wheldall and K. Wheldall)
Prof. Rhona Johnston also responded to the Castles et al paper with the following article:
Examining the evidence on the effectiveness of synthetic phonics teaching: the Ehri et al (2001) and C. Torgerson et al (2006) meta-analyses.
”It cannot be concluded that these two meta-analyses showed evidence against the superiority of the synthetic over the analytic phonics method.”
”An Australian study by Christensen and Bowey (https://bit.ly/30xedZM 2005) found significant advantages for systematic synthetic phonics over analytic phonics in reading and spelling for students in their second year of school.”
(J. Buckingham, R. Wheldall K. Wheldall)
In January 2018, another phonics meta-analysis was produced by Torgerson, Brooks, Gascoine and Higgins.
It includes the 2016 Machin et al. study which Brooks cited as showing that synthetic phonics produced an across-the-board improvement at 5 and 7 but ”strong initial effects tended to fade out on average”. Jenny Chew pointed out, ”The children in that study, however, had been taught by the Early Reading Development Pilot approach (ERDP), which fell far short of good synthetic phonics.”
Jenny Chew wrote an article about the problems with the ERDP back in 2006, in RRF newsletter no.58.
When asked about the phonics meta-analysis above, Prof. Dylan Wiliam tweeted, ”They conclude “the evidence is not clear enough to decide which phonics approach is best” and seem to conclude that therefore “anything goes”. I would conclude, rather, from the available research, that synthetic phonics should be the foundation of all early reading instruction”
Opposition to High-Quality Phonics Continues:
Myths and Deception, the Australian PSC: a response to Dr Paul Gardner’s article ‘Synphonpreneurs’ are pushing synthetic phonics in schools.’
”Dr Gardner apparently accepts the need for ‘phonics’. What he appears to reject however, is the need for the early systematic teaching of synthetic phonics as the only approach to teaching decoding.”
A paper ‘Getting it Right’, published as part of the Early Years Lobbyists’ opposition to the changes to the EYFS, includes the comment that, ”Clark (2013; 2014) offers an evidence-based critique of synthetic phonics” Yet it is immediately noticeable that these two papers are not evidence-based, nor are they in a peer-reviewed journal.”
(Julian Grenier. Blog 03/21. italics added)
”Clark’s research is not systematic or objective. It is a combination of speculation, personal anecdote, and surveys of the views of teachers, parents and children.”
(Dr. J. Buckingham. Putting the record straight about research on reading)
‘Spelfabet’ reviews Clark’s book ‘Reading the Evidence: Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning’ 2017 https://www.spelfabet.com.au/2017/11/alternative-facts-about-phonics/
In January 2022, a paper was published written by Dominic Wyse and Alice Bradbury, both researchers at UCL’s Institute of Education (headquarters of Reading Recovery Europe), with the title ‘Reading wars or reading reconciliation? A critical examination of robust research evidence, curriculum policy and teachers’ practices for teaching phonics and reading.’
They claimed that new research evidence showed ”contextualised teaching of reading, or balanced instruction, is the most effective way to teach reading” (italics in original. p2)
Several teachers and academics critiqued the paper, for example:
Prof Kathy Rastle https://www.rastlelab.com/post/some-musings-on-that-landmark-study
Greg Ashman https://fillingthepail.substack.com/p/has-synthetic-phonics-been-demolished
Jennifer Buckingham https://fivefromfive.com.au/blog/groundhog-day-for-reading-instruction/
Nathaniel Hansford https://www.pedagogynongrata.com/a-response-to
Rhona Johnston & Jennifer Chew https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358103818_Response_to_Wyse_D_and_Bradbury_A_in_press_Reading_wars_or_reading_reconciliation_A_critical_examination_of_robust_research_evidence_curriculum_policy_and_teachers
Greg Brooks https://bera-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rev3.3408?af=R
Besides a critique of the Wyse & Bradbury 2022 paper, Greg Brooks’s 2023 paper above also includes a critique of Bowers’s 2020 paper ‘Reconsidering the evidence that systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods of reading instruction’.
Brooks (2023) describes Wyse & Bradbury’s ”results from a survey of teachers in primary schools in England” (one of the forms of evidence they provided) as using an ”ad hoc approach” which ”guaranteed that the achieved sample would not be representative, and the basis for the conclusions drawn is therefore weak.” The same could be said of Profs. Clark & Glazzard’s survey of the views of Headteachers, teachers and parents regarding the phonics screening check:
As a matter of fact, evidence of the superiority of direct and systematic phonics over indirect analytic phonics was already available in the 1960s. In her book Learning to Read: the great debate, Prof. Jeanne Chall noted ”The current research also suggests that some advantage may accrue to direct as compared to indirect phonics. It would seem that many of the characteristics of direct phonics, such as teaching letter-sounds directly, separating the letter-sounds from the words, giving practice in blending the sounds, and so forth are more effective than the less direct procedures used in current analytic phonics programmes”
(Chall. Learning to Read: the great debate. 1967)
Marilyn Jager Adams wrote the foreword to the last book (The Academic Achievement Challenge) written by the late Jeanne Chall, Professor of Education at Harvard University, an outstanding academic researcher and a staunch advocate for systematic, explicit phonics. Marilyn Jager Adams wrote, ”Many years later, when I was given the task of reviewing the research on phonics, Chall told me that if I wrote the truth, I would lose old friends and make new enemies. She warned me that I would never again be fully accepted by my academic colleagues”. Adams continues, ”(A)s the evidence in favor of systematic, explicit phonics instruction for beginners increased so too did the vehemence and nastiness of the backlash. The goal became one of discrediting not just the research, but the integrity and character of those who had conducted it.” (Chall p.vi)
”Gove’s Greatest Contribution”. Timothy Mills.
Phonics advocates have something to sell
Teacher Training and Phonics:
”Parents who deliver their children to school on that momentous first day of kindergarten, proudly starting them on a venerable path to education, make a big mistake: they assume that their child’s teacher has been taught how to teach reading. They haven’t.”
(Prof M. Seidenberg. p249)
In his article, The Education White Paper: a CPS Postnatum (2010), Tom Burkard wrote that ”(T)eacher training was first identified as the major obstacle to the implementation of effective practices in the 1996 report, Reading Fever[**]. In an unpublished CPS report that was sent to Nick Gibb just prior to the general election, we suggested that new arrangements were needed to train teachers to use synthetic phonics effectively. We included a survey of reading lists for 46 initial teacher training (ITT) courses, which revealed an overwhelming hostility to this method, and indeed a profound disagreement with the coalition’s overall vision of educational reform”.
** Reading Fever: why phonics must come first. Martin Turner & Tom Burkard. Pub. CPS.
2010. Burkard: ITT reading lists for 46 initial teacher training (ITT) courses
University teacher trainers must provide trainees with extensive information on the use of high-quality phonics for teaching reading. Unfortunately, many teacher trainers remain ideologically wedded to the NLS balanced word reading approach (Searchlights) and are very reluctant to train students to teach systematic synthetic phonics (SSP), using phonemes and graphemes as the sole mechanism for decoding print. They continue to provide trainees with a subversive subtext to ensure that the SSP course content is diminished and undermined. An ITE lecturer described approvingly how this was being done: ”Due to the very nature of what it means to be a professional, there can be no doubt that for some there will be subversion at work the creation of guerrilla campaigns against the imposition of SSP…For example, an organised, strategic resistance may be through the philosophy promoted within a faculty” (Hewitt p88)
”A straw poll among 25 NQTs last year suggested that they had, on average, received 2 hours (in total) of phonics training from their ITT institutions.”
(The Reading Ape. Twitter 2020)
”We have a heck of a lot of newly qualified, EY teachers arriving in school with zero knowledge of how to teach reading and writing.”
(John Walker. Twitter 2021)
In January 2020, a Primary Initial Teacher Education (ITE) provider account tweeted the following view on the use of phonics for decoding:
”It has limited utility in a language that is as phonetically irregular as English, hence sometimes it works but not often enough to be a preferred method”.
”The greatest cognitive dissonance has to be the fact that education faculties simultaneously champion social justice and promote reading instruction approaches that promote literacy failure”
(Prof. Pamela Snow. Twitter)
”What 20 years of interactions with trainee and first-year-out teachers has shown me is that attitudes to proper phonics teaching among initial teacher education (ITE) lecturers are almost uniformly negative, whatever the accumulated research may suggest. Phonics is simply lumped in with the other ‘traditional’ practices and attitudes, and trainee teachers are implicitly encouraged to react from the gut in such matters, not from the evidence”
(Australian teacher Michael Salter. Why phonology comes first.
All student teachers would benefit from reading this open letter from Australian Prof. Pamela Snow:
A senior ITE lecturer wrote a paper where she asserted that ”A lecturer with integrity and a good understanding of how children read will ensure that students, who are learning to teach reading, understand that the sole use of SSP is not an effective way to teach reading, but that for many children a variety of approaches is required.” (Hewitt. p88). She failed to provide even one piece of scientific evidence to support this view. In the same paper, she stated that reading researcher Prof. Stanovich and whole language founder Frank Smith both ”endorse the belief that children learn to read through a whole word approach to reading.” (Hewitt p82). In actual fact, Stanovich says that he and his colleague Richard West were at first very taken with Frank Smith’s theories about context effects and expected their own research to confirm them. However, their experiments led them to very different conclusions.
See – extracts from Prof Stanovich. Romance and Reality https://www.dyslexics.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/RRF-50.-Extracts-from-Romancereality.-Stanovich.pdf
“That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science.”
(K. Stanovich p415)
One way to see the anti-phonics bias present in many universities’ teacher education departments is to look at their Primary English reading lists. There is often a visible in-balance in the books listed, with those providing misinformation on teaching early reading using phonics, greatly outnumbering those written by pro-SSP reading experts such as Prof. D. McGuinness and Prof. M. Seidenberg (both are cognitive neuroscientists who have studied the scientific research on teaching reading and spelling). Indeed, such books may be completely absent. For example, a university ITE department which listed a couple of phonics textbooks as ‘required reading’, had an additional and extensive ‘recommended reading’ book list which consisted entirely of texts written or edited by academics who are known to be against teaching direct and systematic phonics, in the case of Goouch, Lambirth and Wyse virulently so.
Caution: use of the word (synthetic) phonics in an academic book’s title can be very misleading. It does not necessarily mean that the author/s supports teaching trainees to use SSP as the sole approach for word decoding. For example, the 2nd edition of the book Teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics and Early English was published in 2017. The main author is a teacher-trainer and head of a university’s Primary and Childhood Education department. Recently (2020), he was joint author of a Policy Brief on Phonics & Reading, where he wrote that ”no single method of teaching children to read is superior to another…there is no clear evidence that synthetic phonics is the most effective approach for supporting reading development”
Student teachers and NQTs see https://www.dyslexics.org.uk/resources-and-further-reading-reference-books/ for RECOMMENDED books, chapters and papers on teaching early reading and spelling.
”Those who have an opposing view [of synthetic phonics] have yet to produce any data showing that their favoured approach produces greater long-term benefits”
(Prof. R. Johnston. www.publicservice.co.uk issue 20. p82).
According to Ofsted’s ITE inspection criteria (2019), primary ITT providers will be rated inadequate for quality of education and training if they teach trainees to use anything other than systematic synthetic phonics for teaching early reading:
”For primary phase, training will ensure that trainees learn to teach early reading using systematic synthetic phonics as outlined in the ITT core content framework and that trainees are not taught to use competing approaches to early reading that are not supported by the most up-to-date evidence”. Ofsted added that students may be made “critically aware” of other reading methods”. Past experience suggests that this concession will be used as a loophole to subversively maintain the status quo.
2020. England: UCET (Universities Council for the Education of Teachers) provided a less than positive response to Ofsted’s ITE inspection criteria (2019). They put out a statement in which they indicated that they wanted primary trainees to continue to be trained to teach children to use a range of word reading strategies in the classroom: ”We should also remember that phonics is one strategy and SSP is the preferred method for it but teachers use a range of methods (including phonics) to teach early reading and we need to equip all trainees to support children effectively in learning to read.”
It’s worrying that people at the forefront of training primary teachers do not understand that phonics is an essential body of knowledge, required by every single child, and not one particular method or strategy for word reading. Furthermore, as phonics is biologically secondary knowledge it requires direct and systematic instruction.
“The vast majority of academics in curriculum and in teacher education will not accept research results that conflict with their romantic, sentimental, child centred ideology.”
July 2021. England. A report recommended that all teacher training providers should be re-accredited in order to continue recruiting from September 2022:
Recommendations in the initial teacher training (ITT) review
”The report points out that Ofsted, the education regulator in England, has inspected teacher training courses and, “found that too often, curriculums were underpinned by outdated or discredited theories of education and not well enough informed by the most pertinent research.”
(Greg Ashman. Blog ‘England’s Chartered College of Teaching finds its “why”).
The report also says (p12) that ”(A)ll trainees who teach early reading must be taught about systematic synthetic phonics (SSP). Because learning to read is so foundational and indispensable for future success, it is essential that every teacher who works in the primary phase is fully equipped to teach reading using SSP, regardless of the specific age group they initially hope to teach. It is also important that trainees are familiarised with the evidence for the effectiveness of SSP and that time is not used teaching them alternative approaches. Learning to teach reading using SSP cannot be left to chance in the design of primary ITT programmes.”
2020 USA: https://quillette.com/2020/08/12/look-whos-talking-about-educational-equity/
”The record of ed schools on the pedagogy of reading instruction is nothing less than a national catastrophe. Despite more than half a century’s worth of scientific evidence showing that systematic instruction in phonics is, for most beginning readers, the royal road to literacy, the latest report from the National Organization for Teacher Quality found that only one-third of graduate ed school programs surveyed give aspiring teachers adequate instruction in the science of reading pedagogy”
2020. Australia NSW. “It is a crying shame that parts of the education community are so blinded by ideology that they cannot bring themselves to accept the evidence in favour of phonics that is sitting in front of them…VCs need to clear out the academics who reject evidence-based best practice. A faculty of medicine would not allow anti-vaxxers to teach medical students. Faculties of education should not allow phonics sceptics to teach primary teaching students.”
(Sarah Mitchell. NSW Minister for Education. SMH)
2023. Australia. Times are changing in teacher training.
”Where other professions, such as engineering or health, ground the training of new practitioners in evidence, we ground it in ideology. Ironically, in education, the use of evidence is itself often labelled as a malign ideology, with those who seek it called ‘positivists’.”