Phonics Phonics Reading

Mother Courage of the Reading Wars

I am not against phonics – I say that despite being labelled a phonics denialist. 

I teach phonics.  I know my phoneme from my grapheme, I can split a digraph (or diagraff as my daughter calls it) at 40 paces, I can spot a medial vowel sound from an initial blend. 

So, why am I so against the phonic check?

Well the clue is in ‘check’. 

The idea is that while learning to read some children do not pick this up automatically. These students need more explicit teaching and this instruction, say the DFE, is by Systematic, Synthetic Phonics (SSP). Extra support for these children should be via a structured and cumulative approach, but sole use of SSP over analytic phonics, balanced reading, vocabulary/comprehension methods is not, in my opinion, so clear cut.  Let’s pretend it is though…

The check is supposed to be a screener to seek these children out.   It is not a diagnostic tool to find out why decoding is difficult.  Once, we work out who is not a ‘reader’ from the check, support can be put in place.  Early intervention is key the DFE say, so the check identifies indiscriminately, with no concerns for the why,  the children who need this help.   If the check highlights difficulties (by that I mean fail to sound out more than 32 ish out of 40) it is repeated in year 2 to see if they still have problems decoding words and as of next year, the proposal (of a pilot) is to repeat this check in year 3. 

The argument from SSP advocates is that there are 20% of adults who are functionally illiterate – the check, they say, will prevent any child being unable to read.  That reading changes lives – we would be mad not to agree, of course.  My experience however is that it is the few not the many who require support and these needs should be personalised; listening to a child reading diagnostically will capture this. Analytic phonics may be required alongside SSP for instance, or work on vocabulary might be important. Do they have memory difficulties? Poor phonological awareness? Slow processing speed?

So does the Phonics Check sound Tippitty Top still?

Well not really, for a number of reasons:

1. It is high stakes (RAISEonline, OFSTED, PRP) – therefore it is not a check but a test. There’s even a wall chart – I judge government initiatives by the complexity of their wall charts. This distorts the curriculum creating stress and pressure in schools and leads to confusion and a ‘teaching to test’ culture rather than embedding phonics into a literacy strategy.

2. This confusion has led to a multitude of consultants, all claiming that their programme is superior to others, and that teachers are ‘doing it wrong’ (many strategies are designed for 1:1 or small group not whole class).

3. It is too rigid; some children who need language support before phonics (language is the precursor to reading – Snowling 2014).

4. It takes up precious time which teachers would otherwise spend on literacy in a language rich environment.

5. The children who it identifies are withdrawn from this language rich environment to be taught separately (sometimes by an untrained TA rather than the classroom teacher).

6. It confuses reading with decoding (Even Nick Gibb mixed these two concepts up at a recent conference).

7. There becomes a disconnect between reading for meaning and decoding; currently, comprehension is becoming the ‘problem de jour’. Take away balance and what you gain in one area you lose in another.

8. The children who are ‘at risk’ of becoming functionally illiterate adults need sustained support, probably up to secondary school – the check, in my opinion, should begin in year 3  (if at all) – teachers know in year 1 which children can and can’t decode – it becomes more complicated later up the school chain. 

9. It is expensive and time consuming (in the DFE report 2013 larger schools cited 3 to 4 days of supply teaching was required).

10. It is not evidenced based – it has become a crude tool to measure teachers and schools rather than a diagnostic tool to pinpoint where children need help with their reading skills.

This system has been forced upon teachers with claims from the DFE and SSP advocates that it is the magic bullet to curing adult illiteracy. It’s a heavy handed approach which is unnecessary – phonics was being introduced in primary schools across the UK as evidence emerged but it is still not clear cut; many teachers are sceptical of the SSP claims and frustrated that they are blamed for phonic check scores being below the national average – another stick to beat them with.

We do have students who cannot read, and they must be identified and helped but this blanket approach does not help them nor does it help the majority who can read. 

The illiteracy model is being peddled by those who will benefit.  It is their wares which are claimed to be the cure.  

The Mother Courage of the reading wars.


18 thoughts on “Mother Courage of the Reading Wars”

  1. I’m not quite sure why you keep referring to people with different programmes ‘turning on one another’ because the push for phonics provision nationally has been a truly collaborative affair and those associated with different phonics programmes are generally, in my experience, respectful of one another’s programmes. We would also state that it is the results from these programmes that matter – results indicating at least to some extent the potential of programmes supporting teachers and enabling effective learning. The only programme that, in my own case, I am critical of is ‘Letters and Sounds’ itself – but only because it was actually promoted AS a programme when, in my view, it is a framework and not a programme as it has no teaching and learning resources. This means that teachers must equip it and translate the guidance – and in doing this it is not so easy to hold the authors of ‘Letters and Sounds’ to account regarding results – and one school’s interpretation of ‘Letters and Sounds’ may look very different from another.

    I do think it is an issue as to who ‘rigorous’ schools apply specific programmes and I do think it is legitimate for programme authors to be concerned as to how any programme is adopted and delivered. Programme authors should be held to account for results but only if adoption is recognisable according to guidance and training.

    The Year One Phonics Screening Check is an invaluable tool for drawing teachers’ attention to the notion of ‘effectiveness’ of their phonics provision. I am increasingly invited into schools of very hard-working teachers who consider they are doing the best they can in their phonics provision and simply don’t understand why their phonics screening check results are not that good relative to others – or they are looking inconsistent from year to year. In some cases, teachers cannot understand why their Year Two children still don’t reach the threshold mark after a further year’s teaching. Such teachers really want to know what they can do more effectively or differently – and it is only the advent of the check that has alerted them to these findings.

    I personally promote the use of the Year One Phonics Screening Check voluntarily in any school where English is taught. Pamela Snow is right that this check is actually a gift to the teaching profession if the profession did but know it. Schools in Australia which still remain dominated by prevailing whole language practices would probably get a big shock if they used the screening check – a wake-up call that would mean a lifechance thing for many children themselves.

    I created a graphic for the recent RRF conference in which Nick Gibb spoke to try to illustrate the difference in phonics provision between different schools. In my opinion, it is this debate that needs to be had – and this could be invaluable for teacher-training and raising awareness of the difference between schools – when, after all, there are real little children at the heart of this issue – whether or not their teachers are effective in their phonics teaching.

    Of course comprehension is hugely important – this isn’t, or shouldn’t, be an ‘either/or’ scenario.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is the graphic I mentioned:

  2. The thing is, schools and teachers have the CrowdPower to change OFSTED and RaiseOnline. And the Screening Check is a prototypical Weapon of Mass Instruction hiding in plain sight that schools and teachers could use to launch a Schooling Spring.

    At one time, OFSTED made sense; today it’s obsolete. You and SchoolLand know that much better than I do, so I won’t labor the point. If the Screening Check results are “open” and used to turn the searchlight on profs, pubs (professors, that is) and crats (as in bureau. . .), there is no need for the citizenry to pay “Inspectors” to impose dictatorial control over reading instruction. More Screening Checks are needed for other matters of schooling, but SchoolLand is better equipped to generate the Checks than is PPCratLand. The Govt is unlikely to abolish OFSTED in one fell swoop, but they could be reigned in to matters for which Screens have yet to be developed, an to inspection of a sample of schools for the purpose of confirming quality of schooling, rather than for the purpose of beating up “deficiencies.”

    Likewise, with RaiseOnline. The Online part is fine and good, but there is no raise in the Raise part. That is, the “data” really haven’t boosted either schooling quality or equity. Why not? Again, y’all know that much better than I do. I’d say it’s because it’s dirty data–garbage in, garbage out–which circles back to the Screening Check logic.

    Deploying a scenario along these lines would be very “disruptive,”–but not to schools, teachers, kids, and parents–those that the PPCrats are supposed to be serving, rather than blaming. Teachers could go right on doing what they’ve been doing–teaching as they been educated to do, and upgrading the teaching as best they can as new evidence becomes available.

    Re your question about children who are not reading. I’m not sure whether you’re referring to older kids who can’t read all the items on the Screening Check and therefore need further instruction in how to handle the Alphabetic Code, OR those who can pass the screen, but who ostensibly “choose not to read whenever possible,” OR something else.

    We’ve been talking about the first group. The UK is on top of the problem and well on to resolving it. More analysis of the data now available and the application of Natural Experiment methodology will complete the resolution.

    Re the second group. If you only count “reading bound print books, preferably classic novels, in your spare time” as “reading for pleasure” kids aren’t doing as much of that as teachers and some other adults recall that they did when they were younger. This bothers the adults, but it doesn’t bother the kids, and it doesn’t bother me. I believe kids can benefit from “adult supervision” and advice, but even though we’re in an electronic age, written communication is still as fundamental to humanity as it was when it was invented. If kids have been taught to read, the kids are reading That’s a very “short answer.” The “long answer is important, but it’s a whole nother story.

  3. Dystopian? That is the opposite of my intent. But your reply indicates that we are pretty much on the same page in addressing the “here and now.”

    The screener should just confirm the teacher’s professional judgement – if this were so, I would be less unhappy. This is, unfortunately not what is happening – more a stick to beat the teacher with.
    There is no obstacle at all (that I’m aware of) to prevent a school (or all schools) from over-riding the Check and registering their professional judgement re a child’s reading status. In fact, it seems to me, there’s a professional obligation to do so. Personally, I’d be wary of straying far from the results of the Screening Check, but there may well be times when this is warranted.–Say when a kid has been absent from school a good deal of the time, is a new entrant to the school, has behaviour or other “issues”–and so on.

    So yes, I would like to find out which programmes work best from impartial experts not selling anything.
    The thing is, there are no “impartial experts” and everyone is “selling something”–whether it’s “opinions” or “programmes” doesn’t really matter. It’s “programmes” and auxiliary resources that teachers are using, so these should reasonably be the focus. Allwegotta do to test/check the applications is to ask schools and teachers what comprises their reading instruction. Whatever they say goes. If they say “Whatever I jolly well feel like at the time,” fine. Then look at the results of the Screening Check–not categorized or identified by schools and teachers, but by categories where the teachers/schools in the category all say they are doing the same thing. Some categories will likely stand out–as either good or bad. If they all look the same, this time around don’t look at the teachers first–look at the programmes to determine what’s missing. At times, it’s “teacher error” but if all teachers in the category are getting the same results, it’s gotta be “programme error.”

    It’s really as simple as that. Some teachers will have to change their ways, but the thing is, the changes pivot toward being simpler and easier for both teachers and kids, rather than laying on “more stuff” and getting more complicated. Professors, publishers, and governments are inherently inclined to make matters increasingly complex–it’s just what they do. All the “accountability” is on the backs of teachers. Not fair; not reasonable. Profs, pubs, and govt have their place and we couldn’t get along as well without them, but in every sector other than EdLand, accountability starts at the “top” rather than “on the ground.”

    1. The obstacle is linked to OFSTED and RaiseOnline – it would be lovely if your relaxed attitude was conveyed in schools – then the screener would be exactly that rather than a high stakes test.

      Your view of the check/test does seem to differ from other consultants who blame teachers. Teachers are grappling with so many new initiatives and changes currently I think there is much confusion. Yes, you’re right accountability should start at the top not on the ground – great comment.

      Incidentally what are your views are looking at why children are not reading when their typically developing peers are? Do you think there’s room for flexibility of approach with these pupils?

  4. There are several reasons why the UK Screening Check is a “disruptive technology” that will eventually extend to all English-speaking countries. I’ll try to flag only a few.

    1. It’s a quick and clean Screening Check. The notion of “screening” is new to EdLand. The Check is analogous to the Snellen Visual Acuity Test used in Driver Licensing, but the twist is that the Check gets at the nub/essence of written communication–the Alphabetic Code which is the link between written and spoken English. The Screening Check is actually a “good enough” means of confirming that a child needs no further instruction in handling the Alphabetic Code. The kiddo is “good to go” to tackle all the “good stuff” of “comprehension” and all of the other “higher order” matters that teachers, and schools, and all the rest of us.

    2. It’s going to take awhile to digest the implications and benefits of the disruption. In retrospect, it was a “big?” mistake to set a “cut” score for “pass.” A capable reader can read all 40 items on the Check without any stumbling at all. Anything less than that is a “deficiency.” But these are little kids, and they deserve some slack. 32 is a “lot of slack” (in my view), but it’s Yr 1, and 32 isn’t unreasonable. What the cut score did, however, was to place “high stakes” on the number for teachers and undue concern about the pseudo words–which never bothered the kids as far as “meaning” is concerned. These matters will wash out, but it will take some time–and more communication. We should be relying on teachers to say which kids can handle the Alphabetic Code when they are passed on the the next Yr teacher. The Screening Check is merely confirmation to back up the teacher’s professional judgement.

    3. The Check is actually a test of the “Instructional Apps”/programmes the school and teacher is using. Teachers magnanimously assume responsibility for all the flaws in the “resources” that they are inundated with. Publishers and other purveyors are held harmless for their instructional pollution. That’s not in the best interest of kids, teachers, or citizenry. Programme authors complain that it’s the teachers “implementation,” but when an application can’t be used reliably its not reader for release–except in EdLand.

    4, As you and Pamela both recognize, what we have here is a grand Natural Experiment within the UK nationally, and in English-speaking nations internationally. Although EdLand places high value on “research” and “evidence” and we argue a lot about it, neither “research” or “evidence” has any direct identifiable impact on anything in EdLand. And the literature is such that one can find a citation to support any contention about EdLand that anyone cares to make. Meanwhile, we have a fresh cohort of kids going through schooling every year, and we do with each cohort what we did with the last cohort (+/-). Teachers are more likely to latch on the the methodology of Natural Experiments before scholars and researchers do. Maybe not. We’ll see.

    1. I’ve had to read this 4 times. Probably just your style but it sounds a little dystopian.

      I think I agree with you on these points though:

      The screener should just confirm the teacher’s professional judgement – if this were so, I would be less unhappy. This is, unfortunately not what is happening – more a stick to beat the teacher with.

      The check Judges the efficacy of the programmes teachers are using – this would be really interesting – to compare Letters and Sounds, ReadWriteInc etc – again, this doesn’t feel so – more like judging the individual teacher.

      That the providers of programmes should be held to account rather than blaming teachers for not doing it properly – YES! There is so much teacher bashing in these discussions which is unfair. As John’s comments show there is no consensus which programme is best yet among the consultants yet. They can actually turn on each other – it is no wonder teachers are confused – and this is just SSP – chuck in analytic phonics and some sight words and the forums combust.

      So yes, I would like to find out which programmes work best from impartial experts not selling anything. This cannot be seen in a Year 1 vacuum however – I visit schools from Reception to year 11 and time will tell whether the intensity of phonic check training translates further up the school chain. A good indicator will be how many students require a reader for GCSEs – this is judged by decoding and /or comprehension with scores below 16 percentile. If this starts to go down it will be quite clear evidence we have better practices to teach reading.

      As discussed with Prof Snow, comprehension is key following decoding and this has been neglected. If you talk to secondaries, there are fewer concerns with decoding but far more around comprehension. This needs to be addressed too – but not from another high stakes test I hope.

      The natural experiment will be interesting – will UK shoot ahead in literacy compared to other English speaking countries? We’ll see.

      I will be delighted if I am wrong about the check but while it is linked to OFSTED, RaiseOnline and PRP I am struggling to see how I will be.

      Thanks for commenting, you have made me think in a rather more dispassionate way than usual (which I’m not sure is a good thing). 🙂

  5. Jules it’s great to chat like this, and like you, I always love to be less sure of my argument – that’s where progress occurs! You raise some really important issues re students’ problems shifting in later years to poor comprehension – Louisa Moats spoke about that when she was here recently. So I guess it’s important for everybody to bear in mind the inherent limits of the phonics check, and the fact that it won’t cure cancer 😉

    The UK-Oz comparison is in some ways a “natural experiment” rather than an RCT, but the catch is that the “u” in UK stands for “united”, where we are a federation of states and territories, with a complex governance and funding relationship between the federal government and said states and territories. This is a headache in education and health in particular, as there’s a lot of variation across the country. The chances of even one jurisdiction introducing a phonics check are pretty slim, hence I guess why we’re watching with so much interest (and in my case, just a little bit of envy).

    Hope you’re enjoying some tasty hot cross buns and not just replying to antipodean colleagues!

    cheers and thanks for the chat – it’s been very helpful I think.

    1. Limits of check – yes I agree and progress is made through questioning – yes – I have enjoyed our discussion – thank you.

      Off for a walk up Maiden Castle – largest Iron Age hill-fort in Europe – if you ever come to Dorset I’ll take you 🙂 have a great Easter

  6. Jules if I’m not mistaken (and at this distance I may well be!), there has been an improvement in children’s scores since the introduction of the check. Assuming this is correct, what do you see as accounting for this, and do you see it as a good thing?

    1. Pamela – a really good question which I’m also contemplating. It hasn’t yet translated to KS1 results which have remained stagnant. I am not a statistician or a mathematician so I am ignorant really to the causation/correlation relationship. I know that I am seeing a positive push to better reading based on phonics in primary schools – this I welcome. I think this though was happening before the check was introduced – slowly but surely and based on knowledge being gained in schools on the best way to teach reading (and yes phonics is the best way). The check, in my opinion, has created an artificial way of teaching reading – schools are confused and under pressure to reach the magic 32. Poor practices may be due to a lack of training or knowledge but I see them as being caused by the check – trying to find a quick fix to pass the test. Interestingly, among SSP consultants even, there is yet no agreement as to the best way.
      What would be really interesting is to KS1 and 2 results before check introduced and after – I not convinced the results in check shows we have better readers.

      I am very willing to be convinced but I just see pressure for year 1 teachers to pass this test at all costs.

      I am very happy to be wrong on this (I usually am)

      1. Jules if there’s general agreement among teachers that phonics-based instruction is optimal, but not as wide-spread or even in quality as it could/should be, it’s a bit puzzling to me that there is so much resistance to the check. From what I understand (usual caveat, could be wrong), it is a population-based “probe”, if you like, to “take the temperature” of what’s going on in classrooms. Whether teachers like it or not, as human beings, when their behaviour is monitored, it will change (cf Hawthorne Effect). Teachers wouldn’t be human if this wasn’t part of their resistance, but hopefully over time this resistance might give way to curiousity about trends etc. It’s very unfortunate though, as often occurs, if some teachers have not been adequately prepared for the process and resort to unintended actions such as “teaching” non-words. That betrays a lack of understanding of what phonics-based instruction is all about, and is hopefully a bug that will be ironed out in time.

        Personally, I wish that this check was introduced in all Australian states and territories. We need to know what children are actually learning with respect to these important early skills, and it’s simply too late if we wait for them to become confirmed poor readers by Grades 3 and 4. There’s good international evidence to show that your percentile ranking by mid-primary school is pretty much where you’ll stay, barring a fairly seismic intervention.

        Perhaps the proverbial elephant-in-the-room here is that the check is as much a monitoring tool of teacher behaviour as it is of children’s achievement. For me, this comes back to the enormous social and economic importance of what teachers do, and I think it’s a nod to that contribution that we think some kind of “surveillance” is warranted. It will be a sad day when the rest of us aren’t invested in what goes on in classrooms 🙂

        Undoubtedly you will argue that resources should be directed in different ways to achieve these ends, but at this point in time, I see no better way of trying to characterize current practice, and I think the UK is to be applauded.

        That’s my Good Friday two-penneth worth!

      2. This is a compelling argument – I think maybe we’ll just need to see how this translates when students get to secondary school. It’s occurred to me that we have a national RCT happening with UK check and Australia not introducing it – that will make for interesting analysis won’t it?
        Two points I’d make:
        1. Middle schools and Secondary schools are less concerned with decoding but more worried about comprehension – the check doesn’t cover this and, possibly takes more resources away from this.
        2. Those students I see are still not passing hence introduction of year 3 check. I am convinced it is these students who require a more flexible approach based on a diagnostic reading measure. I don’t believe these students are being helped – just force fed a diet of medial vowel sounds!

        I am less sure if my position though given your argument so thank you.

  7. I really appreciate your comments and yes, that was precisely my intention. Thank you – are you on Twitter?

    And to AlexanderOMahony – KS1 results have remained stagnant for last two years so phonic check not affecting them.

  8. I haven’t answered all of the points you’ve made but I have tried to address the ten points listed.
    1) I won’t argue with you about the level of pressure, except to say that there does need to be pressure; otherwise, some complacent teachers will continue to have low expectations of many children.
    If teaching to a test, which demands a degree of code knowledge and an ability to blend sounds together to make phonotactic words (real or not), encourages teachers to teach the skills and knowledge required for children to learn to read and write, I think that’s a good thing.
    2. It is true that there are a number of programmes out there competing for the attention of teachers and mine is one of them. Personally I hate breast beating and refuse to engage in it but, in the absence of anyone willing to run properly controlled trials, I don’t see how the situation will change. By the way, we collected statistics on over 1,500 children who were taught our programme throughout KS1. You can read it here:
    It’s amazingly detailed and was compiled by an educational psychologist who is also a mathematician. But, we didn’t have any control groups. We tried to find schools that would compare for SES and run trails. There were no takers!
    3. What is being implied here is simply not the case. We have experience of children from many different countries, speaking a wide variety of languages. They can be taught phonics the moment they arrive in school. The British Council copes very well with teaching English as a foreign language in countries throughout the world. And, for L1 speakers, if they can speak and hear, unless they are very serious disabled, they can learn to read.
    4. There is no more precious time spent teaching children to read and write. That should be the prime focus in the early years. That isn’t to say that children shouldn’t also be offered the best possible conditions for enhancing their vocabulary, knowledge of language structures, etc. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
    5. Sadly, this is very often the case: the most needy child is taught by the least qualified person. But you can’t blame the test for that.
    6. Nick Gibb isn’t a teacher and can’t be expected to understand the detail or the nuances of teaching reading and spelling. However, to address your point directly: when Milton lost his sight and his daughters, without understanding one word, read to him in Latin, who was doing the reading? Milton, or his daughters? Obviously, his daughters! They could read but not understand Latin; Milton could understand but not read.
    7. Not really. See my post here:
    8. I have a lot of sympathy with the view that there should be a closer look at children’s reading and spelling after the Check. Whether it would be at the end of Y2 or Y3 is debatable. I’d incline towards the end of Y2 but then everyone would start complaining about high stakes testing, wouldn’t they?
    9. This is undoubtedly true but then it costs the country massively to have half the population floating around with poor reading and writing skills.
    10. You’re simply flat wrong on this. There have been plenty of studies on the use of non-words (which are nevertheless phonotactic!) as a diagnostic tool in the USA. And, tests of single word reading have been around since mass education was established.
    In regard to some of your other claims, two things:
    Illiteracy is much bigger than you seem to think. The studies conducted in the USA on thousands of people consistently demonstrate the poor levels of literacy in the population as a whole. The OECD has confirmed these findings on a number of occasions in a number of English-speaking countries. What this shows is that English orthography is tough to teach and unless people know what they’re doing, they’ll make a mess of it.
    There is too, in my opinion, a vast difference in the quality of some of what is out there purporting to be phonics approaches. Letters and Sounds had potential. Unfortunately it lacked rigour, it taught the code backwards, it didn’t place enough emphasis on all the skills, and its phases are bonkers in terms of showing where children are at. What was much more serious was that teachers weren’t trained to use it.
    [‘The illiteracy model is being peddled by those who will benefit. It is their wares which are claimed to be the cure.’] This statement is verging on a smear: ‘all providers are charlatans’ seems to be what you are implying. Some may be, it’s true, but it isn’t difficult to find out who is honest and who isn’t, and who is genuinely committed to providing training in the interests of children. I think you should be engaging with the latter.
    John Walker, Sounds-Write

    1. 1. It’s a shame you feel the test (despite the level of pressure) is required for complacent teachers. I have often found SSP consultants critical and rude about primary school teachers. This, in my opinion, is not a reason to implement an expensive and labour intensive test – teachers were using phonics as the evidence emerged. If teachers are consulted and trusted I find we are sensible beings who put the interest of children first.

      2. I’m glad we agree on this.

      3. You misunderstand; although I have concerns for EAL learners – my point was students who have a language impairment. There is much evidence on language being a precursor to reading and so, for these students, phonics alone is not enough. (Professor Snowling 2014)

      4. We agree again; too much time spent on one and not the other will affect reading skills. Teachers are reporting that comprehension is poor in secondary schools, more so than decoding really.

      5. I think I can blame the test; as a direct result of failing the phonics check, students are withdrawn to teach them to pass the check. This continues in year 2, then again in year 3 (from a pilot). These children spend less and less time in the classroom and more and more time in the corridor. As someone said ‘the tragic contrast between intention and outcome’.

      6. Nick Gibb? He who spoke at the Reading Reform conference? He who champions SSP? And has been instrumental in DFE changes? Nick Gibb cannot be expected to know about the nuances of reading? It’s a pretty simple concept 1. decoding & 2. reading for meaning.
      Your Milton example seems to be agreeing with me – the daughters decoded without understanding and Milton listened and understood the language? Not quite sure what you’re getting at? I do think audio books are excellent for students with good understanding who cannot yet decode though. It allows them to access the same vocabulary as their typically developing peers.

      7. This does not seem to be borne out with current SSP teaching. At ResearchEd last year, Professor Bishop said reading comprehension had been neglected and that the ability to decode words was not always sufficient. Again, we need to go back to my criticism of the test rather than phonics per se – the amount of time spent on passing the check is disproportionate – this means other areas of reading and vocabulary are not being taught. Balance is key – tip the scales too far one way and you lose skills elsewhere.

      8. We agree again. Why would people complain about high stakes testing though?
      Listening to children read diagnostically is low stakes. It’s identifying a need which would allow teachers to respond flexibly to pupils.

      9. We seem to agree again on cost.
      Half the population with poor literacy skills? Where is this 50% figure from? 17-20% ‘functionally illiterate’ is the statistic I used.

      10. The phonics check is not evidenced based.
      Single word reading tests are, yes, they have been standardised and should be used by trained individuals. They take into account month of birth not year of birth. They also have confidence intervals. The tests are only as good as the tester and they should be used diagnostically.

      Which studies in the US are you referring to? By OECD, the PISA test?

      You seem to be saying there isn’t yet a perfect teaching system for reading but at the same time telling me SSP is the only way to teach reading. Can’t you see why there is so much confusion? Who should teachers believe?

      I have tried to engage a number of times with SSP consultants but it is very difficult when there is no room to genuinely explore the issues. I’m being made to defend myself on the basis of no reasoned argument. Unless I agree I am a phonics denialist. A formidable bunch who are really quite aggressive.

      I appreciate your response though, thank you – I’m sorry if you felt the smear was addressed to you – it was the ‘everyconsultant’ ; no one consultant in particular.

      *Last term I asked a school to buy your SW app for a booster group I was supporting – but surely I couldn’t have – I am a denialist. 🙂

    1. This post doesn’t question the value of phonics in helping children learn to read; very few people do! It questions – and challenges – the system as currently in place, and expresses concern for its effects. I’m sure you know that many people, including those who run SSP programmes, have concerns about implementation (although specific concerns, and their magnitude, differ). If every person who asks questions about the details of implementation, and the *ways* that phonics is used, is dismissed as ‘denying’ the usefulness of SSP in any form, this is very unhelpful to the debate, and shuts out the possibility of future improvements. Although Andrew Old has added a huge amount to many debates, and though a different perspective is always important, I think in this instance his insistence on a binary opposition is a bit problematic, and runs the risk derailing potentially fruitful debate among literacy specialists.

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