I didn’t choose the phonics life, the phonics life chose me!

The phonics programme at my primary school, Letterland phonics, taught me to read, turned me into a voracious lover of literature and has stuck with me all these years later. At 30-years-old, I can still remember “Sammy Snake”, “Kicking King” and “Zig-Zag Zebra”.

With every new generation of teachers, and every new government, a fresh push towards phonics is to be expected; but you might be surprised to hear that synthetic phonics, the system used in England, has been popular in the western world since the 1960s. Phonics as a concept came into common use at the end of the 19th Century.

So what is phonics?

If you are new to early years education, your only experience of phonics might be your own schooling; however, it is a relatively simple concept.

Phonics teaches children to:

  • Recognise the sound each letter makes.
  • Identify combinations of sounds.
  • Blend the sounds together from left to right to make a word.
  • Match the sound (phoneme) to the written letter (grapheme).
  • Use this knowledge to ‘de-code’ new words that they hear or see.

Phonics has been shown to be most effective for children between the ages of five and seven, and has been shown to help children who struggle reading, such as children with dyslexia, to read more accurately.

In May 2013, the DfE, in partnership with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), published a report on the effectiveness of the then newly introduced phonics check in year one.

The main findings of the report were that, overall, teachers were extremely positive about phonics as an approach, and 90 percent of schools were teaching phonics to all children in reception, year one and year two.

Phonics has drawn recent criticism from academics, with one researcher, Durham University’s Andrew Davis, saying:

“Being forced to move back from reading for meaning to a mechanical exercise of blending and decoding is likely to be off-putting”.

But another 2013 report, by educational psychologist Marlynne Grant, demonstrated that children who had been taught phonics were, on average, 28 months ahead of their chronological age for reading, and 21 months above their age for spelling. This is quite astonishing for a system which is over 100 years old.

Phonics at secondary school

Phonics doesn’t always stop at the end of Key Stage One. Ofsted’s January 2011 report ‘Removing Barriers to Literacy’ described a number of secondary schools which were using a phonic approach with year seven and eight pupils who were in danger of slipping through the gaps, or who were already struggling with the curriculum due to their reading level.

The pupils were given guidance based on spelling rules relevant to their work in other subjects. Over five months, the average acceleration of pupils on the programme was:

  • 4 months’ gain in word reading.
  • 1 months’ gain in reading.
  • 8 months’ gain in spelling.
The phonics check in year one

This year’s phonics check takes place during the week of 15 June and should be administered by a teacher. All checks must take place during that week, unless a pupil is absent from school.

TheSchoolBus 3 minute read on this topic is free to download here.

To find out more about TheSchoolBus or how RM Unify can support you in delivering this in your school email rmunify@rm.com or call us on 0808 172 9525 

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