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December 01, 2005

Phonics Again.

We are so wonderfully fortunate, are we not, to have all those experts at the Department of Education? Sensible people working hard to decide upon the correct methods by which the kiddies across the country should be taught?

All infant and primary schools will need to tear up the Government's advice over the past seven years and prepare for a new framework.

It will tell teachers to concentrate for the first few months on getting children to decipher text using structured phonics - the way that letters or groups of letters represent the sounds in words.

That’s one of the problems with having a centralised decision making system. It can (does?) sometimes make the wrong decision. A further problem:

He endorses the "synthetic phonic" method which was rejected by the Department for Education, but kept alive by hundreds of schools which have ignored the Government's advice.

If everyone had been good little boys and girls and done what the Man in Whitehall (who knows best of course) dictated then we wouldn’t actually know that the new system didn’t work.

Clearly the Dept of Eddukashun needs to go and fortunately this is part and parcel of the only sensible reform available of the entire system. Abolish it and the LEAs and give the money directly to parents via vouchers and let a thousand different methods flourish. Yes, of course there will be mistakes, thefts and frauds, but will it really be worse than having an entire 7 year cohort taught (or not taught actually) via a completely useless method as a result of a political faction gaining power at the centre?

Of course, I would go much further. The problem with all such centralisation is the same. The EU deciding that all jams across the continent must be made with an approved list of ingredients, the UN, via the ILO, insisting upon one particular form of workers rights.....we need continued experimentation in such things, need the innovations that only the trial of thousands of alternatives can provide, with markets noting which are the more successul and thus spreading them. 

It isn’t who controls the centre, nor what the centre decides should be controlled or in what manner, it’s the very existence of the centre which presumes to dictate behaviour which is the problem.

(Yes, there are areas where it is necessary, but they are few and far between and they don’t include reading methods, jam or working hours.)

December 1, 2005 in Academia | Permalink


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Couldn't agree more with you, Tim.

It's a pity that our thicky education secretary thinks that she is so all-wise that she can now impose a single best method from the centre.

Let us suppose that, for the vast majority, synthetic phonics is the best system and widespread adoption would improve reading. The problem is that if even a small minority of children do not learn well by this method (but could learn properly by another), then they will not learn to read properly, since Ruth Kelly has decided that this is the only method allowed.

You forgot to call for the abolition of the secretary of state for education. Independent schools manage very well without her help. And think of the money it would save - her salary could be spent on something useful.

Posted by: HJHJ | Dec 1, 2005 3:43:54 PM

The "synthetic phonics method" was not "rejected by the DfE; that's Torygraph spin. The DfE does not, in fact, prescribe teaching methods in the way that its French counterpart does (with notable success). The DfE politely declined the offer of a couple of private sector consultancies to spend megabucks on commerical synthetic phonics packages for every school in England and Wales, but that's hardly the same thing as banning toddlers from saying "cuh ah tuh spells cat". This is all in the actual report, which is available on the same Internet as the daily newspapers.

Posted by: dsquared | Dec 1, 2005 6:11:28 PM

(and in any case, it would be entirely possible to get the Department of Education out of the curriculum business, let a thousand flowers bloom, etc etc without tying to whatever crackpot vouchers scheme you are flogging this week).

Posted by: dsquared | Dec 1, 2005 6:12:50 PM

and finally:

[but will it really be worse than having an entire 7 year cohort taught (or not taught actually) via a completely useless method ]

the report did not find that analytic phonics was a "completely useless method"; it found that it was not as good as synthetic phonics but still good. You should have guessed that it was not "completely useless" because most British children can read.

Posted by: dsquared | Dec 1, 2005 6:14:33 PM


Is it facile to suggest to Ms. Kelly that the best way to teach children to read is for them to be brought up surrounded by books?

Posted by: The g-Gnome | Dec 1, 2005 9:36:41 PM

Yes it would be facile to suggest that to Ms. Kelly because a) it's not supported by the evidence which suggests that the best way to teach children to read is synthetic phonics and b) Ms Kelly is actually responsible for administering the Sure Start program which already provides children with books.

Posted by: dsquared | Dec 2, 2005 6:56:28 AM

Like I say the government should only be concerned with ensuring that parents take on the reponsibility to educate their own children. Where they cannot afford this the money should be loaned to them.

Posted by: Rob Read | Dec 2, 2005 6:01:37 PM

Dear sir,

I am saleem Zebari , I am busy with making a research on the role of phonic method in teaching reading , please send me some information about this method , and I will be thankful to you ,

with best regards

Saleem Zebari

Posted by: saleem Zebari | Nov 6, 2006 4:11:08 AM