The final report from the Rose review of the teaching of early reading* has recommended that: ‘notwithstanding the uncertainties of research, there is much convincing evidence to show from the practice observed that, as generally understood, “synthetic” phonics is the form of systematic phonic work that offers the vast majority of beginners the best route to becoming skilled readers.

Education secretary, Ruth Kelly, has said that the report will play a major part in guiding the renewal of the framework for teaching literacy, and the development of the Early Years Foundation Stage to ensure that even more children are helped to read at an early stage.

She has accepted all the recommendations in the report and launched a rigorous programme of training for teachers through the Primary National Strategy, and changes to Initial Teacher Training led by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA).

The report stresses that good teaching, attention to speaking and listening skills and the systematic learning of phonics are crucial to raise standards, with early interventions to prevent children from falling behind. This month’s Publications Digest highlights the report’s findings on factors that relate to successful intervention programmes.

The review argues strongly that a vigorous, programme of phonic work be securely embedded within a broad and language-rich curriculum ‘that generates purposeful discussion, interest, application, enjoyment and high achievement across all the areas of learning and experience in the early years and progressively throughout the key stages which follow’.

I CAN, the charity that helps children communicate, has particularly welcomed the report’s emphasis on the need for a range of interventions to meet the needs of all children. This is of particular importance to children with communication disabilities who have specific difficulties with learning to read, and for whom the interaction between different routes to literacy through language is often unusual and complex.

Systematic teaching is the common factor in success

The review notes that a number of contributors to the review claimed to have developed exemplary but differing approaches to teaching reading in general and phonic work in particular. Virtually all of the developers of commercially produced phonic programmes provided assessment data that showed very substantial, sometimes spectacular gains in the performance of beginner readers on their programme. Since a wide array of different tests was used to measure these gains, it was not possible to compare the value added by each programme with any accuracy. It was clear, however, that all of these programmes were highly systematic.

Recommendations

The specific recommendations are:

  • High-quality systematic phonic work should be taught discretely and within a broad and rich curriculum, developing children’s speaking and listening skills.
  • For most children, high-quality systematic work should start by age five. Phonics teaching should be enjoyable to capture their interest, sustain motivation and reinforce learning in imaginative ways.
  • While good mainstream practice raises standards, there will always be some who need more intensive intervention – key to success is the integration of the catch-up support such children receive, and their whole group teaching.
  • Headteachers should make sure that phonic work is given appropriate priority in the teaching of beginner readers and set ambitious targets for achievement in English at the end of Key Stage 2.
  • High-quality training is essential to ensure practitioners and teachers are able to teach reading well. Phonics should be a central part of in-service and initial teacher training.

*Independent review of the teaching of early reading: final report at: www.dfes.gov.uk.

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