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June 03, 2005

Synthetic Phonics.

This is good news:

Teachers will be told to stop encouraging children to memorise words by their shape and guess at them by their context, as the national literacy strategy recommends.

Instead, they will return to the traditional method of teaching reading that was abandoned in the 1960s in favour of such approaches as "look and say", which required children to treat words as ideograms, and "real books", which expected them to learn reading by osmosis.

The decision to embrace synthetic phonics, which yesterday's announcement heralds, represents one of the most dramatic U-turns in education policy.

It’s also appallingly bad news:

She set up an independent review of "the role of synthetic phonics" in teaching reading, which will lead to a fundamental re-writing of the national literacy strategy introduced by the Government seven years ago.

Even when it is belatedly making the right decision what in hell is central government doing micro-managing the way that teachers teach? What a crazy and absurd system, that an election which might turn on a war, a lie, a view of economics, should lead to or could lead to a change in how children are taught to read. This simply should not be part of politics at all.

As Mr S&M continually tells us we should not have to vote once every few years for a jumble and bag of policies. On some questions where there is a yes/no choice then referenda are more appropriate. On others, and I submit this as an example, central government should not have any say in the matter at all. We would be better off with a system whereby teachers used whatever methods came into their heads, lunatic or not, and parents were able to choose to subject their children to whichever they chose. If, at the same time, we wish to preserve central funding of the education system then that means vouchers.

But the real point of this story is what the hell are we doing with a system when political appointees decide upon something as detailed as the precise method by which children should be taught to read?

June 3, 2005 in Academia | Permalink


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Tracked on Jun 3, 2005 2:37:30 PM


At least we still have the freedom of teaching our children to read and write before they go to school.

That said, when I first went to school (several decades ago), I could read and write. My teachers told my parents to stop teaching me as it was their job! They then proceeded to give me a book of "rhyming sounds" when I was already reading books by Roald Dahl. When my mother complained, she was given back the book and told her that I obviously hadn't read it the first time and sent home.

Posted by: lascivious | Jun 3, 2005 9:09:23 AM

We would be better off with a system whereby teachers used whatever methods came into their heads, lunatic or not, and parents were able to choose to subject their children to whichever they chose.

Shriek! Shriek! But what about the offspring of crack addicts who don't care about their children's future? Shriek! Shriek!

Posted by: Tim Newman | Jun 3, 2005 9:09:26 AM

"If, at the same time, we wish to preserve central funding of the education system then that means vouchers"

Or child education loans (which even things up for homeschoolers).

Posted by: Rob Read | Jun 3, 2005 3:44:46 PM

There's no doubt that blogworld is the cybernetic equivalent of the four-ale bar, where harmless crackpots explain to anyone who'll listen how the country is going to the dogs, and generously disclose their considered opinion on the only way to put things back on course.

Allow me to take the floor!

If we are to have a state education system at all, it clearly MUST fall within the purview of public policy; i.e. education MUST be seen as a political issue. Our blog-host may very well believe that the state system should be dismantled, and an entirely privatised non-system permitted to flourish in its absence. This would seem consistent with his libertarian views.

Libertarians are prone to assume that human beings are motivated primarily (or entirely) by enlightened self interest, and that a free market will enable them to make prudential choices. More highly regulated systems were introduced by those who took a less sanguine view.

In a society where to be illiterate is to be socially excluded, it is an act of criminal negligence for central government not to insist on making the most stringent and effective methods of literacy available to all children of infant-school age (when they are most likely to benefit from it). Whether it does this directly through the state system, or by regulations which also apply to the private sector (should there be one), is immaterial. It is sheer madness to suggest that something as fundamental as basic literacy should be left to consumer choice.

In recent debates, "synthetic phonics" has been presented in contrast to "analytic phonics". Daniel Boettcher, the BBC1 News reporter, even seemed to think that synthetic phonics was some experimental novelty. Actually "synthetic phonics" is simply real phonics, while "analytic phonics" isn't actually phonics at all. Real phonics was the system abandoned in the UK by trendy educationists about thirty-five years ago, since which time literacy standards here have plummeted. Teacher-training institutions and the teaching unions are deeply hostile to "synthetic phonics" because they believe it to be old-fashioned and elitist, and find its insistence upon objectively measurable standards of achievement doctrinally uncongenial. They are quite happy to sacrifice the literacy of countless children upon the altar of ideological purity.

Phonics WORKS, but in a Politically-Correct world where all truth is relative, all but a few dissidents in the world of education have a metaphysically motivated vested interest in denying this simple fact. Our blog-host should rejoice that the state-sponsored monopoly on promoting general illiteracy should at last prove permeable to common sense.

Tim adds: Of course I rejoice at thisoutbreak of common sense. I also use it as an example of the faqct that we should not have a centrally directed education system as it is precisely that that led to the problems of the past 35 years.

Posted by: Neil Saunders | Jun 7, 2005 10:25:23 AM

Tim: "I also use [the "outbreak of common sense" attendant on the re-introduction of traditional phonics] as an example of the fact that we should not have a centrally-directed education system, as it is precisely that that led to the problems of the past 35 years."

With the greatest respect, Tim, whatever merit there may be in the case for dismantling a "centrally-directed" education system, the problems of the last thirty-five years were not an inevitable consequence of that system. We had a centrally-directed state education from 1870 onwards that, on the whole, did an extremely successful job in imparting basic literacy and numeracy to the general population.

I would concede that a centrally-directed system may be more vulnerable to the kind of ideological capture constituted by so-called "progressive" theories of education, but a fad of this kind could conceivably contaminate the private sector as well.

You speak slightingly of "political appointees", and question their entitlement to determine education policy. In a representative democracy such as ours, such people have ultimately been appointed by us.

Posted by: Neil Saunders | Jun 7, 2005 12:59:13 PM

I am from Canada. Can anyone tell me if teachers using synthetic phonics also use readers? If so, which ones?

Posted by: christina | May 8, 2006 3:56:54 AM