A Response about the Implementation of PhonicsApril 7, 2013
I showed the email which featured in my last blogpost to another experienced primary teacher, one who I knew to be a vocal supporter of phonics. This is the response. Again, although the author has agreed to let me use it, it was not written as a blogpost or necessarily for publication, and any mistakes should be blamed on me, not the author.
Oh God, where to begin!
Letters and Sounds is just “guidance”. Where the flipping heck is the common sense of some headteachers?
I do have some sympathy with the writer if they were implementing Jolly Phonics well and then the school panicked and went OTT when Letters and Sounds came out. But come on, most schools said they did phonics but were mixing it with guessing and learning loads of sight words.
My school follows Ruth Miskin’s programme. The kids get 60 minutes every morning doing it and they are setted, but moved frequently if they put on a spurt of progress. Reception children start off with 30 minutes and build up as they can cope with more. We implemented this programme years ago before the government made it mandatory. We get 98% level 4 for reading, and tons at level 5, in KS2 SATs.
I agree that the phonics check is to force schools to teach phonics. It’s sad that they have to but they’ve had bloody long enough to get their fingers out voluntarily. Telling a child’s parents whether they passed or failed is not an issue; certainly 6 year olds can be labelled failures but only if all the adults involved are totally inept. It wasn’t an issue in my school. Any child that missed the pass mark is not SEN, they just hadn’t covered all the programme yet and will pass the resit in Y2.
There is a discussion to be had about setting. Jolly Phonics is a very good programme and doesn’t set, Ruth Miskin’s is equally good and does. A good focus for some research.
Letters and Sounds was designed to give schools that had no clue about phonics a free guide, an order to do things in. It’s not perfect. With the matched funding of up to £6,000 to buy in materials including complete schemes with detailed guidance, no school can have the excuse that they don’t know what to do. Some headteachers panicked; some delegated to staff who panicked. I guess the only thing you can’t legislate for is common sense.
And you do need to teach children more than one way to spell a sound ee y ea and ay ai a-e. How else do you make sense of our spelling system?
Again there’s a debate about how many of these different ways need to be taught. Some programmes might go further than the Letters and Sounds higher phases. It is not an issue for the children if introduced logically as part of a systematic programme.
Ruth Miskin is the only literacy teaching we do in KS1 but we do do 30 minutes of guided reading every day too. Personally, I’d rather do whole class reading “for pleasure” (sorry) and practise letter formation with all students together, rather than a carousel of ” independent activities.”
But then I’m an unreconstructed sage on the stage.
I hope this helps.
At this point I’m just going to leave everything open for comments. I’d particularly like to hear from primary school teachers whose experiences match one of the two contributions or are entirely different. I might come back to this if anything interesting comes up in the comments. Thanks to both of the two contributors.