Nearly one million more pupils will be coming into the school system over the next decade and as pressures mount for more expenditure –and more and more of EVERYTHING – Primary cuts are worth looking at. For starters, the teaching of reading is a candidate for severe pruning, preferably with newly sharpened secateurs (e.g. Magical Spelling, Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, fluffy phonics add-ons, iPads, so-called “phonics” readers – not least the first four sets of Biff and Chip). Without thorough professional training in early reading instruction, teachers continue to be attracted to mixed-methods expenditure – a smidgeon, or even a dollop, of phonics stirred in with guessing strategies, onset and rime, consonant blend games, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all… Yet, recently, only 20p per pupil was invested in essential, high-quality synthetic phonics training through the government’s Phonics Matched Catalogue. The mandatory requirement to teach synthetic phonics is often circumnavigated and the waters horribly muddied. See Alison Clarke, Spelfabet, on how to confuse children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3vFNzjihQA&app=des
This vicious circle continues as more and more effort and money are spent attempting to unravel the damage done by muddled initial instruction. The best primary schools use systematic synthetic phonics with beginner readers http://tinyurl.com/ovz6rwg and Reading for Pleasure case studies: http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/oxed/primary/literacy/RfP_case_studies.pdf?region=uk …
But most ‘catch-up’ programmes still continue with the mess of pottage known as ‘mixed methods’, leaving secondary schools to pick up the pieces and restore the shattered confidence of students. It is these students who, after 6-7 years of primary education, are left with low esteem and accompanying attitude problems –disruptive and diversionary behaviour, after all, goes a long way in disguising poor reading skills. Some secondary schools robustly tackle the problem with evidence-based instruction. But intervention programmes should never have been necessary. It’s so much harder to teach foundational skills to older students than to little ones and turning around large numbers of under-performing students involves huge effort and expertise. It also means that SEN staff have less time for special-needs children who require all the help they can get. We need to look after the most vulnerable in society – not act as trouble-shooters, unpicking the fun-laden damage done by earlier mal-instruction.
Why not make it a requirement that all children are taught to read during their seven years in primary school? At the moment, stumbling readers are increasingly lumbered with outlandish labels resulting in heavy financial investment, in the – often forlorn – hope that they will ‘catch up’ before leaving primary school. Phonics-focused primaries have demonstrated conclusively that the overwhelming majority of pupils can become competent readers, growing into enthusiastic and wide-ranging book lovers, however inauspicious their background. Where is the evidence for 97%+ of competent, fluent readers emanating from phonics-lite schools in deprived areas? Such schools seem remarkably coy about sharing this information.
Were all ITTs to provide comprehensive information on evidence-based instruction, with the Alphabetic Code at its centre, there wouldn’t be a need for expensive catch-up programmes, or time-wasting, budget-devouring materials. Children thrive on learning when they understand how reading works and see their progress. And foundational evidence-based reading instruction, taught with rigour, frees up time for art, drama, discussion, writing, poetry, music, and so much more.
‘Consider: what you would want if you were the child who cannot read?
You would want someone to teach you, and teach you well.
It is not a lot to ask.’