Up until the 1970s a mixture of synthetic and analytic phonics was used for teaching reading in British schools. From that time forward phonics was abandoned in some state primary schools to be replaced by the "whole word recognition" method sometimes called "look and say". In the following years the average reading age (i.e. the level of reading ability) of children in primary schools fell and the standard expectation for children of various ages was adjusted downward. Although there were a few proponents of phonic methods the major lobbying bodies such as the Institute of Education disdained early attention to the alphabetic code in favor of taking clues from the context of the text (such as illustrations). (Pg. 11)
In 2006, The Department of Education and Skills (U.K.) released a review of the research literature on the use of phonics on teaching and spelling. The review concluded that systematic phonics instruction had a "statistically significant positive impact" on reading accuracy. However, the review goes on to say there was no statistically significant difference between synthetic phonics and analytic phonics because "only three randomized control trials were found". The report concludes by suggesting that a larger study would help to clarify the relative effectiveness of systematic synthetic phonics versus systematic analytic phonics.
For a period of time Systematic Phonics was used as part of a mixture of methods, however, during the period in which Ruth Kelly was the responsible minister, this was replaced by an imperative to teach Synthetic Phonics "first and fast". As of 2007 Synthetic Phonics is the favored method of the UK government. As a result of a review of the primary curriculum that was undertaken by Sir Jim Rose at the request of the Department for Education and Skills While the report often uses the term "Systematic Phonic work", it appears to support "Synthetic Phonics" as evidenced in the Rose Review. In fact, to be clear, the U.K. Department of Education uses the term "systematic synthetic phonics". The following is a summary of the report's observations and recommendations concerning phonics:
- The skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing are used by (and are supported by) what it refers to as "high quality, systematic phonics".
- Young children should receive sufficient pre-reading instruction so they are able to start systematic phonics work "by the age of five".
- High quality phonics work should be taught as "the prime approach" to teaching reading, writing, and spelling.
- Phonics instruction should form a part of "a broad and rich language curriculum". Note: critics of this report point out that the report does not explain what they mean by this, nor does it offer any details on how to achieve this within the framework of synthetic phonics' instruction.
Critics of the report
- In a report dated April 2007, professors Dominic Wyse and Morag Styles conclude that the evidence "supports" systematic phonics, however, the Rose Report's assertion that synthetic phonics should be the "preferred method" is "not supported by research evidence". This criticism is based on the way the research was conducted and how the results were interpreted.
- In October 2011, The National Campaign for Real Nursery Education web site (U.K.) comments on the U.K. government's intent to impose a specific type of phonics teaching (i.e. systematic, synthetic phonics) in the nursery and reception years, and suggests that this decision was not supported by the "research evidence". " However, the site does not appear to cite any specific research. The parties appear to be concerned about "the loss of some early years grants".
Developments following the Rose Review
- Following the adoption of the phonics approach in its schools, the U.K. Department of Education provided a great deal of online support for teachers wishing to learn more.
- In March 2011 the U.K. Department of Education released its White paper entitled "The Importance of Teaching". In the Executive Summary, item 12 of the curriculum section states their commitment to support "systematic synthetic phonics, as the best method for teaching reading."
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