For the past 20 years, phonics has been the order of the day when it comes to teaching children to read at school. Governmental policy dictates that every child will learn that “a, a, a is for ant” and “sssss is for snake”. Their efforts are accompanied by jolly videos, rhymes and actions.
The problem is, phonics as a method simply doesn’t work for everyone – as has just been proved by a landmark study just published by the LSE. It found that using phonics has “no measurable effect” on pupils’ reading scores at the age of 11. Furthermore, a researcher concluded that this is probably because “most children learned to read eventually, regardless of teaching method”. How depressing.
But, I could have told them that already – because, if phonics was a landslide success at bringing children to reading fluency, I would have been out of a job long ago.
In my capacity as director of a reading consultancy, I am called upon every week by parents and teachers of children between the ages of six and fifteen because the children cannot read, despite repeated use of phonics and one to one support. These are not the so-called “unteachables”, but children with a wide range of abilities, from those who simply don’t respond to phonics to those with severe dyslexia and other learning difficulties. But for us, many of these children would have left school illiterate if they had used only what the Government made available through schools.
In my experience no child is unable to learn to read because we have had astonishing success with every child we have taught, in a fraction of the time of the preferred Government method. So it is time that everyone stopped stubbornly holding to one particular view, and embrace whatever works for the child. We must be championing the cause of teaching children to read – not teaching children phonics at the exclusion of all other methods, and potentially letting them down in the process. Instead, the Government should concentrate on encouraging teachers to use whatever is available to get a child reading and improving Britain’s performance in literacy league tables.
Limiting ourselves to one reading solution is like only allowing one type of painkiller on the market for a headache when there are many different causes of the pain. The Government should by all means set the standards that must be reached, but let the professionals decide how best to reach them.
Emma Plackett is a Director of Reading Revival Limited, a reading consultancy that produces toolkits for parents to bring their child to fluency quickly and easily; readingrevival.com
This article was originally published on Telegraph UK