Phonics: the sounds that letters make. Kerching!
Phonics, according to Ofsted, are “letters and the sounds that they make”. But for some producers of phonics materials, the sound is the noise of cash registers going "kerching!".
Figures obtained under Freedom of Information by Professor Margaret Clark, visiting professor in early years education at Newman University, show that £25,593,109 funding has been provided under the Government’s match-funding scheme for buying phonics materials from a Department for Education (DfE) approved list. £22m was spent on materials and £1.3m for training.
Private Eye pointed out that money received by publishers and trainers would be double the DfE amount because schools had to match the funding provided.
The three most popular resources were (in ascending order):
1 Floppy’s Phonics, published by Oxford University Press (OUP) received approximately £3m in DfE funding;
2 Phonics Bug, published by Pearson, nearly £4m;
3 Read, Write Inc, also published by OUP, received over £4m.
Read, Write Inc is produced by Ruth Miskin, an enthusiastic proponent of synthetic phonics, a method of teaching reading endorsed by school ministers. She is director of Ruth Miskin Literacy Limited which received £546,614 in matched funding for training from the DfE.
Ruth Miskin was also an adviser to the DfE on the primary curriculum. When the primary curriculum review was announced and the names of advisers, TES reported concerns about a possible conflict of interest between Miskin’s role as adviser and a producer of teaching materials. The DfE and Miskin denied this at the time saying the curriculum review would not be recommending particular publications.
But Miskin’s Read, Write Inc is one of nine mainstream phonics schemes on the DfE approved list (one resource, published by the DfE, is free – it contains the forbidden word in synthetic phonics circles – “cue” – so will probably be removed). Read, Write Inc is also listed as a supplementary resource.
Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, told the Guardian he was worried about the influence of such advisers:
"Ministers like to promote the idea of a free market, with free exchange of information and ideas. But this isn't what's happened here: ministers have their ideology and have listened to a coterie of people who are in line with that ideology. It's terrible practice."
It appears it has the potential to be a financially rewarding one.
Clark, Professor Margaret M, OBE, “Whose knowledge counts in Government literacy policies and at what cost?” Education Journal issue 186 20 January 2014, pp 13-16
Private Eye, No 1359, 7-20 February 2014