“Thousands of schools sign up for phonics funding”,
says schools minister, Nick Gibb. Over 3,000 schools have taken up the offer of matched-funding
of up to £3,000 to buy government-approved phonics materials for the teaching of reading. Schools can spend more if they wish, but the Government will grant no more than £3,000.
Mr Gibb singles out certain local authorities who are leading the way. Quite why he should praise local authorities is unclear because all schools have the freedom to choose which resources to buy. The Government constantly stresses the importance of schools being autonomous but in this instance it seems to be suggesting that LAs lean on schools to buy the recommended products. So keen is he for this to happen that he has “named and shamed” authorities where the take-up is low.
Mr Gibb cites research evidence that backs up the effectiveness of phonics teaching: the Clackmannanshire study of 300 children which found they made more progress in reading and spelling than their peers; an Australian enquiry which found that “systematic instruction in phonics” was an “essential foundation for teaching children to read”; and a US survey which reported on the “positive and significant effect” of systematic synthetic phonics teacher on the reading skills of pupils with disabilities.
One major piece of research not mentioned by Mr Gibb was the European study “Teaching Reading in Europe”
undertaken by Eurydice. It found that teaching phonics was crucial and discovered that its use was already extensive. Unfortunately, Mr Gibb promotes the idea that teaching phonics is under-used in England and children are being let down as a result. This ignores the evidence from Eurydice about the prevalence of phonics teaching in Europe. The report praised England for being one of just eight countries to have a system of reading specialists in schools. Unfortunately, government funding for this has ended and schools must decide themselves whether to keep funding the scheme. Eurydice also found that what was needed was not more phonics, because that was already embedded, but work on encouraging comprehension.
Perhaps the money that Mr Gibb has allocated to schools to buy government-approved phonics materials would be taken up more enthusiastically if the match-funding were available for any reading materials. And Mr Gibb’s undoubted energy in promoting synthetic phonics – a system which is already prevalent – would be invaluable to kick start a national scheme which would champion reading, encourage the use of libraries and give a boost to parents and carers who are crucially important in inspiring their children with a love of reading.