Why ‘fonyks’ works

Why ‘fonyks’ works

A new study has declared the way school pupils learn to read is ‘uninformed and failing children’, and there have been calls on the government to drop its phonics focus.

I disagree.

The UCL’s Institute of Education says that phonics learning isn’t ‘underpinned by the latest evidence’ – but it is underpinned by the experience of many teachers over many generations. And plenty of studies support them.

When I was a special needs teacher, I discovered that synthetic phonics really helped children who found it very difficult to decode words.

That’s not to say it is the only way to teach reading – I didn’t learn through phonics, but visually.

However, everyone can learn to read through phonics, and it massively helps those who struggle with other methods.

Teaching phonics gives children the ability to deconstruct a word and then put it back together by sounding it out.

Splitting up diff-i-cult words makes it much eas-i-er for many children to get the hang of reading and comprehension.

Certain phonics rules are particularly useful for everyone. For example, it helps to tell a child that the ‘a’ sound in ‘rat’ turns into ‘ai’ – as in ‘rate’ – when an ‘e’ is placed at the end.

These general rules along with sounding out words helped the struggling children I taught.

When progressives moved against this long-standing and successful method of teaching, many children struggled. When it was brought back, reading levels improved.

Teachers are sensible and will not slavishly stick to a single approach to teach reading skills.

They will choose what method to deploy depending on the ability of the children and on what they know works.

One thing that can really improve children’s reading skills is when parents make time for their child to read to them every day.

Teachers are supervising thirty children in a class and just hearing a child read to you as a teacher is very time consuming – three minutes with each child would take 1.5 hours per day.

If we want to improve children’s reading skills significantly, we need to support parents more and encourage OUT LOUD reading at home.

I completely agree that reading and literacy are crucial for children’s life chances and if it is not sufficiently in place by the time a child reaches secondary school they will struggle thereafter.

Therefore it is necessary to test children’s reading and the phonics screening check is an important part of this. The improved statistics indicate that it has worked.

The government should look more closely at PISA rankings regarding literacy and numeracy since the abolition of effective grading systems in the SATs tests in 2014.

The replacement of 18 grades with just three grades – ‘working below, ‘working at’ and ‘working above’ national level – gives virtually no information to anyone. The primary school, secondary school, parents, and government are none the wiser.

‘Working below’ (up to 40%), ‘Working at’ (40%-80%) and ‘Working above’ (over 80%) means it is now almost impossible to assess how well children are doing regarding literacy.

To accurately assess how children are performing we must have effective grading in SATs.

The SATs tests determine not only how well a child can read but also their comprehension skills.

This is vital information and will give us a much better picture of the level of literacy children are currently achieving.