We will look back at the reading policy of the early years of this century with amazement and disbelief. Why do we waste children’s time getting them to read words which are not words? The government policy on reading is totally prescriptive, opting for synthetic phonics where letter sounds are learned and blended in order to ‘read’ text. Children are tested on this at KS1 and will be remediated if they have not mastered the art of sounding out nonsense words correctly. So children get penalised for reading -im as him because they are using their knowledge of the English language to make sense of a nonsensical word.
Teaching children to correlate letters and sounds, and to blend sounds into sequences, is decoding. It is not reading. Nowhere in their future life will young people need this skill. Instead we will expect them to read for meaning, read critically and gather inferences from text. So why don’t we teach them these skills from the off?
Durham University researcher Andrew Davis used to be a primary school teacher. His research shows that children who are starting to read when they enter school are actually disadvantaged by synthetic phonics. He argues those well on their way to reading will be bored witless by reading books featuring only words for which they have been taught the phonetic rules in class.
His research can be accessed at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/2048-416X.2013.12000.x/full
The Department for Education is sticking to its policy: ‘Research shows overwhelmingly that systematic phonics is the most effective way of teaching reading to children of all abilities, enabling almost all children to become confident and independent readers. Thanks to the phonics check 177,000 six-year-olds will this year get the extra reading help they need to catch up with their peers.’
Another way of looking at this is that 177,000 seven year olds will discover they are failures at the end of this school year