Phonics is sounding out success

Phonics is sounding out success

As a passionate advocate of education being the key to unlocking the success of the country as a whole, it was great to hear the news of England and Northern Ireland climbing the education league tables.

When it comes to reading at primary level, England and Northern Ireland are both now in the top 10 countries in the world – and in my view, that is down to the recent changes in the primary curriculum and a return to a more structured approach to learning.

At the heart of those changes has been a re-emphasis on the use of phonics in the early stages of learning. Nick Gibb, the Schools’ Minister has long been an advocate for this approach and he is absolutely right to have championed it.

Structured learning through phonics rather than the more haphazard progressive whole-language approach to learning to read is the best way to ensure the vast majority of children progress in their reading skills at the right speed.

This does not write off the value of using methods employed by those who advocate the whole-language approach but shows it is the start to learning children need.

Children should be reading a wide variety of material, engaging with texts in an analytical way and attempting to see the connections between words and their meanings. However, it is about emphasis and what must come first.

Very young children must learn to read by using a process that works – and phonics is a proven method. Some children are capable of learning to read under a less organised and piecemeal approach – but it will leave many wanting.

The whole-language approach is largely pupil-centred and children make progress at a rate that might suit them, but often the clock is against them. If they don’t achieve a certain level of competency by a certain point they will not be able to access the curriculum and will fall further behind. Learning to read cannot be in the hands of the student. It is the teacher that must dictate the pace of learning.

And without adequate reading skills – a child’s education will be hampered throughout the remainder of their school career.

At school, if you cannot read efficiently you will not be able to understand written maths instructions or read a history text book.

As an adult, being able to read is essential for nearly every single daily activity – from shopping to driving.

Traditional teaching methods get very young children able to read and it’s a skill that will stay with them for the remainder of their lives.

But just because I’m an advocate of traditional teaching methods does not mean I do not share the same hope from colleagues in the progressive wing of the education world.

All of us want children to become free-thinking creative individuals who can interrogate texts and comment intelligently on them – but we differ on how best to get there.

I am concerned that core literacy and numeracy must be taught and imparted in the early years in a structured way, rather than leaving a child’s education to chance.

For children to discover the world in their own way we have to ensure they have the basic skills in place to unlock their potential in the first place.