‘… 100,000 more 6-year olds now on track to become proficient readers as a result of our relentless emphasis on phonics. Had we not done so, those pupils would still be struggling today.’
School minister, Nick Gibb, Department for Education (DfE) press release
But DfE commissioned research
into the 2014 screening test contradicts this. It said:
‘Teachers were positive about phonics as an approach to teaching reading, and its contribution towards early reading development. In the majority of schools, however, other strategies alongside phonics were also supported.’
The research said the 60% of schools said they taught systematic synthetic phonics ‘first and fast’ but teachers’ answers to questions about using other methods contradicted this finding.
So what were these ‘other strategies’? The NFER, which conducted the research, told me*:
‘One of the key messages to emerge from the evaluation so far is that many schools appear to believe that a phonics approach to teaching reading should be used alongside other methods
. These methods include guided reading, reading for meaning, use of ‘big wow’ words, story book reading and listening, vocabulary and grammar work and use of Big Write materials.’ (My emphasis)
‘Survey and case-study participants have also reported using a range of other schemes or strategies including Reading Partners, Freshstart, Bug Club, Better Reading Partners, the ELS Programme, Success for All, Reading Recovery, and Catch Up Literacy. In addition, a small number of schools have reported that they had developed their own literacy programmes.’
It appears, then, that Nick Gibb hasn’t read research published by his department. Neither has he appeared to ask himself what these ‘other strategies’ are. Perhaps it’s because using other strategies conflicts with his support for the exclusive use of systematic synthetic phonics. This support has proved highly profitable
for certain firms publishing phonics material.
And it also doesn’t occur to him that when a test is introduced, teachers will coach pupils in passing the test.
*email from NFER to me dated 22 July 2014